5 of the greatest individual comebacks in sporting history

When you think of a comeback in sport, your mind probably jumps to Liverpool’s amazing Champions League win in 2005 or to Reggie Miller scoring eight points in nine seconds to lead the Indiana Pacers to an incredible win over the New York Knicks.

But every now and then, there’s an individual sportsman or woman who suffers a setback. Through either injury, bad luck, or a freak accident that puts them in a bad place. While most would call time on their careers, there are a handful of hardened professionals who decide that they want to go out on their terms.

We’ve put together a list of five of the greatest individual comebacks in sports history.

Tiger Woods (golf)

Tiger Woods 2008 US Open
Image source: Golf.com

Tiger Woods has been through a lot. Ignoring his personal issues off the course, Woods went through more than a decade of serious injuries that required surgeries, including four on his back.

Although Tiger earned his first PGA Tour win in five years in September 2018 – a phenomenal comeback in itself – arguably, his best comeback win was achieved at the 2008 US Open. After suffering a double stress fracture to his left tibia two weeks before, Woods began the Open with a torn ligament in his left knee and ignored doctors’ suggestions that he go through treatment.

After 72 holes, Tiger was tied with Rocco Mediate, which meant that he would have to suffer through another 18 holes in a playoff round. Woods and Mediate were tied once again after the playoff round, forcing them to go to sudden death. After fighting through the pain for five days and 91 holes, Woods won the first sudden-death playoff hole to win the tournament.

Niki Lauda (Formula One)

Niki Lauda crashImage source: Youtube.com

At the 1976 German Grand Prix, Niki Lauda was involved in a terrifying crash that saw him trapped in his F1 car and engulfed in flames. This after Lauda tried to get his fellow drivers to boycott the race over concerns of the safety of the German track.

Lauda, one of the most popular Formula One drivers of his time, suffered horrible burns to his head and face, and inhaled toxic gasses that seriously damaged his lungs. While many thought he would call time on his career and focus on his recovery, Niki Lauda was back in the driver’s seat and fighting for the championship in less than six weeks.

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In the year that he had his accident, the Austrian missed out on the championship by just one point, but went on to win the title in 1977, the year following his accident.

Bethany Hamilton (surfing)

Bethany Hamilton survives shark attack
Image source: Today.com

While it is highly unlikely that most swimmers and surfers would ever see a shark up close, let alone be attacked by one, Bethany Hamilton became a statistic while surfing with friends in Hawaii in 2003.

Hamilton was viciously attacked by a 14-foot Tiger shark, resulting in her losing her left arm and almost 60% of the blood in her body.

Following several surgeries, Hamilton returned to surfing just three weeks after the incident. She went on to win the 2005 National Championships, turning pro in 2007 and going on to win another three events throughout her career.

Clint Malarchuk (ice hockey)

Clint Malarchuk neck injuryImage source: Theplayerstribune.com

Clint Malarchuk was the goaltender (similar to a goalkeeper in soccer) for NHL side the Buffalo Sabres. During a game against the St. Louis Blues on 22 March 1989, Steve Tuttle of the Blues collided with Malarchuk’s teammate, Uwe Krupp, causing Tuttle’s skate-blade to cut Malarchuk’s throat, severing his carotid artery.

Even with blood gushing out of his neck wound, Clint Malarchuk was able to leave the ice with his trainer, Jim Pizzutelli, who was a former Army combat medic in Vietnam. If it wasn’t for Pizutelli’s training, the goaltender would certainly have died. Pizutelli managed to pinch the main blood vessel, shutting off blood supply until doctors arrived.

Despite losing 1.5 litres of blood, and needing 300 stitches to close the wound, Malarchuk was back on the ice just 10 days later.

Brian O’Driscoll (rugby)

Brian O'Driscoll recovers from shoulder surgeryImage source: Thetimes.co.uk

Rugby is often described as a collision sport rather than a contact sport. As a result of several jarring tackles and constant knocks to the head, players often suffer serious head injuries and a number of concussions.

Brian O’Driscoll – a retired Irish rugby player – played at outside center in more than 130 international Test matches. In June 2005, as part of the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand, O’Driscoll was spear tackled by two All Black players, and driven head first into the ground.

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The force of his weight coming down on his upper body dislocated his shoulder so severely that he required immediate surgery. Had the Irishman not moved his neck in time, it is likely that he would have broken his neck, and that the injury might have been fatal.

Following his surgery, O’Driscoll was sidelined for more than six months, with many believing that his career had run its course. But the Irish center had other ideas; O’Driscoll made a full recovery and led Ireland to the Triple Crown, after they defeated England, Scotland and Wales in the Six Nations competition.

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Published: 03/28/2019