Biggest Athlete Comebacks After Tragedies
Formula 1: Robert Kubica
Any fans of Formula One would have been delighted with the efforts of Robert Kubica who is battling to resurrect a career that was derailed by a horrific accident in 2011. The Polish driver’s right forearm was partially severed in the incident and for most mortals, it would surely have ended his career.
Kubica battled back however and six years later he is posting some fast times in testing for the Renault team. If he does make it back to the full F1 circuit it will be a remarkable story but it wouldn’t be the first time that an athlete has battled back from such a personal tragedy. Here are some incredible sporting comebacks that preceded Kubica’s brave battle.
Michael Jordan: Basketball
For many, Michael Jordan was simply the greatest basketball player that ever lived. After his third and final retirement in 2003, he had won 6 NBA titles and had been awarded the MVP trophy on six occasions too.
A further five season long MVPs were awarded in a career spent playing for two clubs – the Chicago Bulls and the Washington Wizards. In the summer of 1992, Jordan was part of the great American Dream Team from the Barcelona Olympics but a year later, he too was struck by personal tragedy.
In 1993, Jordan’s father James R. Jordan Snr was murdered as he slept in his car and his body dumped in a swamp in Bennettsville South Carolina. The elder Jordan had inspired his son to take up sport although baseball was said to be his preference. Despite this horrific incident, Michael Jordan spent a further 20 years at the top of his chosen sport.
Frank Mir: UFC
Frank Mir is one of the stars of UFC and a man who was at the top of his game for some 16 years. At the end of his professional career, the American was 4th highest ranked in terms of numbers of UFC victories and first overall when it came to most fights, victories and submissions.
All of this was achieved after a miraculous comeback from a motorcycle accident in 2004 when Mir was knocked from his bike by a car. The fighter broke a femur in two places and tore all the ligaments in one knee so it wasn’t surprising that he was absent from the ring for some time.
Unable to defend his UFC title, Mir was stripped of the belt and finally returned to competitive action in February 2006. At UFC 57, he suffered a shock first round knock out at the hands of Marcio Cruz but recovered to reclaim his title and become one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport.
Considering the severity of his injuries, it was an incredible return.
Monica Seles: Tennis
For two years leading up to the end of 1992, Monica Seles was the number one women’s tennis player in the world but her career was to endure a horrific shock just a few months later. Seles had won the Australian Open at the start of that year but on April 30, she was playing a quarter final in Hamburg against the Bulgarian Magdalena Maleeva when a crazed Steffi Graf fan named Gunter Parche ran from the crowd and plunged a boning knife between her shoulder blades.
Seles was rushed to hospital and thankfully the wound was not too deep but it would be two years before she would return to competitive tennis.
Arguably, the incident robbed Monica Seles of the chance to dominate the game during that period but she did return and in an emotional final, she was to take one more Grand Slam title with victory at the Australian Open for the fourth time in 1996.
Niki Lauda: F1
Austrian driver Niki Lauda’s long Formula 1 career started back in 1971 and after showing early promise, he took his first world title with Ferrari. A year later, he was involved in one of the most remarkable comebacks in this, or any sport.
During a battle for the Drivers’ Championship with James Hunt that was to go down to the final race, Lauda prepared for the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. Amidst safety concerns voiced by Lauda himself, drivers decided against a boycott, but the Austrian came off on the second lap and was trapped in his car as fire broke out.
He lapsed into a coma having suffered severe facial burns that caused him to lose most of his right ear. His life was at stake but incredibly he only missed six weeks of action, returning at Monza with his head swathed in bandages. He couldn’t quite close out Hunt in that year but the incredible story was completed in 1977 when he claimed the drivers’ title once again. A further world title came in 1984 for one of the bravest sportsmen ever.
Lance Armstrong: Cancer
Clearly a controversial figure, there are many tragedies involved in Lance Armstrong’s sporting career and it’s a terrible shame that the drug use masked a huge personal battle for the American.
In 1996 at the age of just 25, Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer. In his case it was very advanced at Stage three and had spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain. His urologist later said that his chances of survival were almost none but he battled through with various chemotherapy treatments and eventually was declared cancer free in 1997.
The fact that Lance Armstrong could even race competitively again was nothing short of miraculous and it is indeed a shame that this comeback was overshadowed by later events.
Jonas Gutierrez: Testicular Cancer
Now in his mid 30s, Argentine international Gutierrez is still playing professional football for Independiente but it was at Newcastle United that he made his name. A combative midfielder, Gutierrez was a fans favourite and it was a huge shock to the club when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2013.
Having undergone surgery back in Argentina in October of that year, the player was able to battle back and initially had to go on loan at Norwich before making his way back into the Newcastle first team. Happily, he’s fitter than ever at 34 and could still have a number of years left as a professional footballer.
Eric Abidal: Liver Transplant
Of all the comebacks from illness and injury, Abidal’s is perhaps the most incredible. A talented French international defender, the player had represented his country in two World Cups and was an important member of the great Barcelona side when health issues first struck.
Early in 2011, Abidal was told that he had a tumour in his liver and would have to undergo surgery as part of his treatment. The first stage of his comeback saw the player line up with his Barca team mates in the Champions League final of 2011 when the club beat Manchester United 3-1.
The sight of Abidal, who had played the full 90 minutes of that final, being held aloft by his fellow players was an emotional one but his fight wasn’t over. The previous operation had not resolved the situation completely and it was necessary for the player to undergo a liver transplant.
It would be enough to end most careers but once again Abidal fought back, returning to Barca before seeing out his career with Monaco and Olympiakos.
An incredible tale to end our round up of some of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time.