Saturday, August 22, 2009

Appiah’s quest for a renaissance: is it the first?

When Stephen Appiah made his not-so-triumphant re-entry into the Black Stars last Wednesday, many thought it was the first time a sports star has sought to woo back fans – and the record books.

Not so.

A quick look at history shows that there have been several others before the Tornado.

His was just the latest in a series of comebacks of former champions and icons who found the temptation for further glory too good to resist. These are some of the former greats who have had another crack at more success with varied results.

Lance Armstrong

The combative seven-time Tour de France champion couldn't resist another tilt at the greatest cycling race in the world and duly announced his return to the sport last year at the age of 37. He defied the skeptics to produce a typically aggressive and competitive ride in this year's edition and finished a highly commendable third behind his Astana team-mate Alberto Contador.

The Texan and the Spaniard then exchanged less than complimentary words with Armstrong acidly remarking 'there is no I in team'. That duel reminded me of Sulley Muntari’s mum.

Next year's race promises to be an even greater spectacle as Armstrong has decamped to the Radioshack team run by his mentor and close friend Johan Bruyneel.

Alain Prost

After Prost was left without a drive following Ferrari's decision to release the Frenchman for the 1992 season, he returned to the circuit one year later at the wheel of a Williams-Renault. He then went on to lift a fourth drivers championship before leaving the track for good.

Michael Jordan

After a brief and modest spell in baseball's minor leagues, "Air Jordan" came back to the basketball court following a 17-month spell away from the game between 1993 and 1995. The man many regard as the greatest ever to play the game led his former club, the Chicago Bulls to three more NBA titles.

Muhammad Ali

The man simply known as "The Greatest" retired from the ring after regaining his world title from Leon Spinks on September 15, 1978. After two years on the sidelines, he re-laced his gloves at the age of 39 but was badly beaten by world champion Larry Holmes who stopped Ali in the 11th round in October 1981.

George Foreman

Olympic champion in 1968 at the age of 19 in Mexico City, Foreman went on to become world champion five years later when he defeated Joe Frazier. The future preacher went on to lose his belt to arch rival Mohammed Ali one year later in the legendary 'Rumble in the Jungle' in what was then Zaire - now the Democratic Republic of Congo - but after some 12 years out of the fight game, he stunned the world of boxing when he floored Michael Moore in 1994 at the age of 45. One of the hardest punchers in the game, he remains the oldest ever boxing world champion.


The brilliant Brazilian quit the game of football in 1974 after a glorious career at Santos and the rare achievement of lifting three World Cups with the South American giants. Six months later, he was coaxed out of retirement by the New York Cosmos and won the now defunct North American title alongside such fellow greats as Franz Beckenbauer.

Dara Torres

The champion of coming out of retirement, Torres quit twice only to return to the pool for the Beijing Games in 2008 at the age of 41. The American proved to the world, she was still a force to be reckoned with by winning three silvers in the 50m free, 4x100m free and 4x100m medley to take her career tally to 12 Olympic medals.

Torres also took part at the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Games before returning to the starting blocks at Sydney 2000 and winning five medals. Following the Australian Olympiad she continued her education, gave birth to a baby girl Tessa, in 2006, before announcing her second return to competition a few months later.

Lester Piggott

The greatest jockey of his generation, who won nine Epsom Derbys among many other major races, and was champion jockey 11 times. Retired in 1985 to take up training but was jailed in 1987 for three years for tax evasion only to return to the saddle on his release aged 55 and showed the 'long fellow's' talents remained as he guided Royal Academy to the Breeders Cup Mile for his old retainer Dr Vincent O'Brien and added another classic through Rodrigo de Triano in the 1992 English 2000 Guineas before retiring for a final time in 1994.

Katarina Witt

The East German pin-up girl won it all in a glittering career that featured two Olympic golds, four world titles and six European crowns. She quit the ice as a competitive skater in 1988 at just 23 but returned six years later for the 1994 Games at Lillehammer.

Despite high expectations, she could only manage seventh place. Turned her hand at an eyecatching nude photo display in Playboy in December 1998 - the then second most sold out issue since Marilyn Monroe appeared in their first ever edition. However it was also revealed that she had co-operated fully with the notorious East German secret police the Stasi.

Jayne Torvill - Christopher Dean.

The mythical British ice dancing pair captured the world's attention with their sublime interpretation to Ravel's Bolero in 1984 which gave them gold and world glory. Ten years later, they teamed up again to compete at the Lillehammer Games at the age of 35 and 36 respectively. Despite only winning bronze, they remain etched in figure skating folklore while Dean went on to become a brilliant choreographer.

Bjorn Borg

Stunned the sporting world when he retired at just 25 after hitting the peaks of tennis. Borg won six French Open titles and five Wimbledon crowns before hanging up his Donnay racquet for the first time. Made a doomed comeback in the early 90's when he tried the absurd idea of continuing with a wooden racquet. He never won another match in 10 miserable tournaments.

Martina Navratilova

The Czech-born American quit the courts in 1994 at the age of 38 after winning 18 individual Grand Slam titles. She remained out of the game for six years before making a successful return in the doubles game. Navratilova won three more Grand Slam titles, including the mixed doubles at Australia and Wimbledon in 2003 with India's Leander Paes and the US Open in 2006 with Bob Bryan, just weeks ahead of her 50th birthday.

Martina Hingis

Cursed by injuries, the temperamental 'Swiss Miss' was forced into early retirement at just 23 in 2003. Three years later the former world number one was back and played two seasons winning three individual tournaments and the Australian Open mixed crown, alongside India's Mahesh Bhupathi. Her comeback was brought to a premature end when she tested positive for cocaine in 2007 during Wimbledon.

So you see, the Tornado is very much a part of this list. What remains to be seen is if he can make what would be one of the best returns to form we’ve seen in years.