Six previous gold medal winners make the ‘cut’ defying the odds to keep alive their quest to add to their tally
Most comeback tales are filled with stirring examples of never-say-die spirit and single-minded devotion to attain the objective.
Once the best, a sportsperson doesn’t want to settle for anything less. Knowing the comeback journey to the top is far more challenging than the one they traversed as younger and fitter aspirants, these accomplished practitioners of their chosen art, decide to give it another shot defying age and odds.
Each Olympics attracts some of the past medallists — mostly “retired” — to return to the biggest sporting stage on earth.
Some make it, some don’t. The body, in most cases, is weak but the soul always willing.
In the last couple of years, 17 Olympic gold medallists, mostly swimmers and gymnasts, and many more winners of lesser medals, began their comeback bids. Of the lot, only six previous gold medal winners made the ‘cut’ and kept alive their quest to add to their tally.
If sprinter Justin Gatlin (US), swimmers — Anthony Ervin, Brendan Hansen (both US), Libby Trickett (Australia) — gymnast Catalina Ponor (Romania) and cyclist Kristin Armstrong (US) booked their berths to London, many illustrious names failed to do so.
Legendary sprinter Merlene Ottey (Slovenia), swimmers — Ian Thorpe, Geoff Huegill, Michael Klim (all Australia), Janet Evans, Ed Moses — gymnasts — Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin, Paul Hamm, Chellsie Memmel, Alicia Sacramone, Marian Dragulescu (Romania) — and wrestlers — Kurt Angle, Henry Cejudo, Rulon Gardner, Cael Sanderson (all US) were among those whose comeback dreams were shattered.
Gatlin, the 2004 Athens Olympics 100m gold medallist, missed the 2008 edition while serving a four-year doping ban. Two years after the ban was lifted, he made the world sit up and take notice of his gold-winning time of 9.80s in this year’s US Olympic trials.
The 30-year-old came .05 seconds inside his winning time of 2004 while finishing ahead of Tyson Gay, who clocked 9.86 after returning from a right hip surgery last year.
Fellow US athlete Bryshon Nellum, shot three times in 2008, believes “what doesn’t break you makes you stronger.”
Nellum, who feared he might never walk again, had his third surgery on his left hamstring in August last, and still qualified for the London Olympics after clocking a personal best of 44.80 seconds in 400m in the US trials.
Ervin, who sold his 2000 Sydney Olympics 50m freestyle gold for around $17,000 and donated the amount to 2004 tsunami relief fund, has come out of the retirement announced in 2003.
Now 31, Ervin returns to his second Olympics in 12 years after being the top qualifier in the 50m freestyle in the US trials.
With two relay golds in the last two Games, Brendan Hansen makes a third bid for an individual title in London in the 100m breast stroke. Fellow breast stroke swimmer Eric Shanteau took the second spot. Shanteau was diagnosed with testicular cancer shortly before the Beijing Games.
Libby Trickett, winner of six Olympic medals including three golds, is back from the retirement announced in 2009 and will be part of Australia’s 4x100m freestyle relay squad. Three-time Olympic winner Catalina Ponor, 24, will be in London to add to the haul she collected in 2004.
In 2005 Ponor decided she had had enough.
She was seen more and more in Romanian tabloids after trading her leotard for a bikini. Now she is back after being guided by her mentor and Romanian great Nadia Comaneci.
Cyclist Kristin Armstrong, 38, scripted a sensational comeback by qualifying for the 18-mile time trial and road race just 23 days after breaking her collar-bone.
Winner of the time trial in 2008, Armstrong had retired in 2009 to start a family.
Merlene Ottey, 52, will miss making a record eighth Olympic appearance after the Slovenian 4x100m relay team finished sixth in the semifinals of the European championship.
Incredibly, the holder of a record nine Olympic medals, without gold, Merlene said she would continue to compete.