Phelps Comeback: 10 Most Successful Athletic Comebacks

Michael Phelps comeback

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In a press release yesterday announcing the headliners for the Mesa Grand Prix in Mesa, Arizona from April 24th-26th, USA Swimming has confirmed that 22 time Olympic medalist (the most successful Olympian ever) Michael Phelps will be returning to competition, in his first meet since the 2012 Olympics.

I mean I had to write a special post didn’t I?

Bob Bowman, the swimmer’s longtime coach, has told The Associated Press  that Phelps is entering three events — the 50- and 100-meter freestyles and the 100 butterfly – and noted the athletes intentions, “I think he’s just going to test the waters a little bit and see how it goes. I wouldn’t say it’s a full-fledged comeback.”

Will he have what it takes for Rio 2016? Doubt him? Well here is a list of sports top 10 comebacks.

Greg LeMond

In 1986, LeMond became the first non-European professional cyclist to win the Tour de France; eventually winning it 3 Lemond comebacktimes; 1986, 1989, 1990. LeMond is the only American to officially win the Tour—following Floyd Landis’ and Lance Armstrong’s disqualifications for doping. The rider was also World Champion in 1983 & 1989.

In 1987, LeMond was accidentally shot by his brother-in-law whilst out turkey shooting. The rider lost 65% of his blood and a punctured right lung. An emergency operation saved his  life, but four months later he developed a small bowel obstruction due to adhesions that had formed following the shooting and had to have a further operation. There are still 35 shotgun pellets in his body, including 3 in the lining of his heart & 5 more embedded in his liver. 

LeMond returned to the 1989 Tour, completing an improbable comeback by winning in dramatic fashion on the race’s final stage. He successfully defended his title the following year, claiming his third and final Tour victory in 1990, which made LeMond one of only seven riders who have won three or more Tours.

Niki Lauda

In 1976, on his way to a second World Championship Title in Formula One racing, Niki Lauda’s Ferrari burst into flames at the German Grand Prix at Nürburgring. As anyone that saw the recent film Rush, the race car driver came close to death after inhaling hot toxic fumes and suffering severe burns, leaving him permanently disfigured. However he recovered and returned to race again just six weeks later at the Italian Grand Prix. Lauda went on to win two more championship titles before retiring. Scars from the injuries he suffered have left him permanently disfigured.

Magic johnson comebackMagic Johnson

Johnson’s career achievements include three NBA MVP Awards, nine NBA Finals appearances, twelve All-Star games, and ten All-NBA First and Second Team nominations. He led the league in regular-season assists four times, and is the NBA’s all-time leader in average assists per game, at 11.2.

After a physical before the 1991–92 NBA season, Johnson discovered that he had tested positive for HIV. In a press conference held on November 7, 1991, Johnson made a public announcement that he would retire immediately. Johnson’s HIV announcement became a major news story in the United States, and in 2004 was named as ESPN’s seventh most memorable moment of the past 25 years. Many articles praised Johnson as a hero, and former U.S. President George H. W. Bush said, “For me, Magic is a hero, a hero for anyone who loves sports.”

Despite his retirement, Johnson was voted by fans as a starter for the 1992 NBA All-Star Game and was chosen to compete in the 1992 Summer Olympics for the US basketball team, dubbed the “Dream Team”. Johnson made his NBA comeback in 1992-1993 and then went on to coach the Lakers in the following season. 

Dara Torres

If you had watched the 2012 US Olympic qualifiers you may have seen the story of 45 year old Dara Torres – who had just returned from reconstructiveDara-Torres-45-comeback surgery – who fell short by nine one-hundredths of a second.

This would have been her third comeback!

The first one was for the 2000 Olympics, having participated at three previous Olympic Games (1984, 1988, 1992) where she earned one bronze, one silver, and two gold medals. At the 2000 Games, she added three more bronze and two gold medals to bring her total to nine Olympic medals from four editions of the Games.

With the birth of her first child and at the ripe old age of 41, Torres entered her fifth Olympic Games (2008) and won 3 more silver medals; a female record tally of 12 Olympic medals in all!

Phelps maybe you should do coffee?

Muhammad Ali

Ali was banned for three and a half years at the height of his professional career as he claimed conscientious objector status after the US military drafted him to fight in Vietnam.

After clearing his name in court, he was reinstated by the boxing association, only to face the fighting machines of Joe Frazier and George Foreman in the 1970s. Although Ali lost “The Fight of the Century” against Frazier in 1970 (later beating him in a rematch) it was the “Rumble in the Jungle” with champion George Foreman that firmly placed his name as a legend of the sport. Ali kept fighting until 1981.

George Foreman

The International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO) rates Foreman as the eighth greatest heavyweight of all-time. We have just talked about the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ but probably his greatest achievement was coming out of retirement at the age of 38 in 1987 – after 10 years away from the ring! For competitive sport, particularly boxing that is unbelievable; shall we even mention his stated intent to fight the monster – Mike Tyson?

Then in 1994, with all the odds against him and facing an opponent 19 years his junior [he was 44 and Michael Moorer, reigning champ from beating none other than Evander Holyfield for the IBF and WBA titles , was 26] George Foreman regained the title he had lost to Muhammad Ali two decades before. Incredible. 


For younger fans - seriously this is him

For younger fans – seriously this is him

Andre Agassi

In 1995, Agassi ranked number one in the world, but a volatile relationship with Brooke Shields, a nagging wrist injury, and poor performances on the court the player fell into the abyss of depression. In 1997, in what should have been the peak of his career, he took up snorting crystal meth. His world ranking plummeted a stunning 140 notches.

Not only did Agassi clean up, he  soared back up through the rankings, returning to World No. 1 in 1999 and enjoyed the most successful run of his career over the next four years. In 2002, he became the oldest player in history to reach number two.

No wondering, during his 20-plus year tour career, Agassi was known by the nickname “The Punisher”.

Michael Jordan

The NBA website states, “By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.”Michael-jordan

Among his numerous accomplishments Jordan holds the NBA records for highest career regular season scoring average (30.12 points per game) and highest career playoff scoring average (33.45 points per game). In 1999, he was named the greatest North American athlete of the 20th century by ESPN, and was second to Babe Ruth on the Associated Press’s list of athletes of the century – yes its America so Merckx fans relax.

Even with all this talent, on October 6, 1993, Jordan announced his retirement, citing a loss of desire to play the game – a decision which was shaped by the murder of his father earlier in the year. The player then further surprised the sports world by signing a minor league baseball contract with the Chicago White Sox on February 7, 1994 – stating later that it had been a dream of his father for him to play baseball.

However in 1995, with the words ‘I’m back’ Jordan stormed back on the basketball court. Although he had not played an NBA game in a year and a half, Jordan played well upon his return, and after a playoff defeat for the Bulls in his first comeback season, his team came firing back with a regular session record of 72–10 the following year.

eric-cantona_kung fu kickEric Cantona

“King Eric” – voted as Manchester United’s greatest ever player by Inside United magazine – was convicted for assault on a fan in 1995; with his Kung Fu kick, and given a eight-month suspension. However even with this lengthly time off, the King returned to captain the club in 1995 (when Steve Bruce wasn’t on the field/left) and that season they became the first team to win “the double” twice [winning the League and the FA Cup final].

Shall we put Lance Armstrong in? Mmmm I will leave you decide whether he should be on this list. Mind you this video today will help his image; How to Fix a Flat with Lance Armstrong

But why not watch this in race ‘comeback’ from the 1992 Olympics, inspiring stuff, be warned!