Because sometimes being able to take that hairpin in Monte Carlo just one more time is more important than where you get to stand on the podium

 

 

Four names in the world of sport have captivated the headlines over the last 10 years with respect to their decisions to return to their chosen fields. Micheal Jordan, Zinadine Zidane, Micheal Schumacher and Justine Henin.

While each has got a mixed response and some comebacks have already ended in what might have seemed tragic circumstances, I think most sports fans think too selfishly of themselves, instead of putting themselves in the shoes of the legends of sport that choose to return.

For many of these demi-gods of sport that choose to return, there can be no doubt that they have one thing in common, they all want to come back to their respective sport and win. However, scratch beneath the surface and most sports fans will realize that winning isn’t necessarily their primary motivation for returning. Their primary motivation is an undying love for the sport that they excel in and a feeling of utter helplessness when they prematurely exit from it. I get the feeling not every fan realizes that, in fact the great majority don’t from the kinds of reactions the aforementioned individuals received and still get in popular media as some of their come-back stories unfold.

A few things that are often overlooked by the average fan that has already elevated their sports hero to demi-God status, need to be put into full perspective to appreciate what it takes to return at a late stage in a sports personalities career.


I. The battle for fitness

At forty something, if you think taking on a couple of G’s of force with every single turn Micheal Schumacher rolls through is just as easy for him as when he was in his twenties, guess again. The battle for getting back into top form only gets harder as the years roll by and while experience peaks at a certain level for all intents and purposes, it is impossible to roll back the clock on your bodily condition. Unless of course your name is Alessandro Del Piero in which case you are somehow exempt from this rule.

The fight to get back into shape is such a huge mountain to climb that subjecting yourself to a yet another full year of grueling punishment is often cited as the single biggest deterrent to most players coming out of retirement. That Zinedine Zidane could dance around players in his mid-thirties at the 2006 World Cup, should be seen as an achievement in and of itself.

That Justine Henin could just pick up a tennis racket and make it back to the finals of a Grand Slam with just 3 months of training after over a year away from the sport, shouldn’t be possible. The battle to get back into shape is indeed worthy of our praise and admiration. Something that we often neglect when judging our favorite athletes on their comebacks.

 

II. The mental toughness required to push yourself towards further success

When the media asked Micheal Jordan which one of his titles meant the most to him, he said it was his sixth and final title in 1997. Surprising, because it seemed the easiest of his six to attain owing to a lack of competition in the league at the time. Not to mention the fact that Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen and Tony Kukoc were all veterans by the time win number six rolled around, giving ‘Big Mike’ less responsibility to shoulder. The reason Micheal Jordan cited his 1997 championship win as his most significant was an insight into the mind of a successful athlete.

After 2 Gold Medals at the Olympics, 5 MVP Awards, 6 MVP Finals awards and anything else you could imagine, motivating yourself to win something you’ve already won multiple times is one of the hardest feats an athlete comes up against. Put into perspective, that makes perfect sense. Waking up knowing that you are a legend of the sport you are still playing, that somewhere a placard with your name on it has already been prepared for future placement in the hall of fame, that you have reached the pinnacle in terms of achievement of whatever your respective sport has to offer you and for some stupid reason you are working your backside off on a near daily basis to win the same awards all over again?

With the mental aspect of the sports we watch usually put on the back burner in terms of importance, as we are usually glued to the physical feats before performed in front of us, any sports fan would be advised to consider the mental aspect of the sport they watch and realize, there is often a far greater battle being fought in the minds of athletes with themselves rather than the players around them.
III. Risking Leaving Behind More Regrets Than The Last Time You Retired

Ironically, it seems that fans of every sport are either in denial or are completely oblivious on this particular front. Sports writers and the media the world over often harp on and on about how coming back to the sport would tarnish a particular athletes legacy if they didn’t come back and dominate. The individuals we revere that are contemplating a return to a sport in which they have dominated, do not seem to think on the same wavelength as fans when it comes to the reasons why they want to come back. For champions that decide to come back for one last tour of duty, it is a personal decision that is usually borne from a premature exit from the sport of their choice, not from the perspective of wanting to have achieved some championship or goal but purely because they have not got the sport out of their system yet. Herein lies a rarely exposed dichotomy.

Fans watch their favorite players to escape from their rather ordinary lives, these players perform feats of brilliance for which they are afforded near demi-god status. On the other hand, players entered the game in the first place not just because they were talented but because that happened to be their passion. Once you’ve won everything that there is to win, yes as a player one would imagine that you have competitive instinct flowing through your veins, but winning at that point is trumped by being given a chance to be part of the sport you are beginning to fall in love with all over again. Which explains why players aren’t deterred from coming back to the sports they love even if it means they might not win. The legacy of a true champion and defender of ones sport is therefore, less important than being given theĀ privilege of being invited to play just one more time.

 

I hope that the average fan, gives these factors some serious thought before they issue a tirade over whether or not it was a good idea for their idol to return for one last hoorah. Maybe we should be a little more grateful for what our heroes gave us in years gone by instead of judging their legacy based on what they do during the last twenty minutes of their 2nd tenure, after all if we applied the same standard that we do with plenty of our heroes that return to Zidane, we would all consider him a head-butting villain. Something that none of us in our right minds should do! Perhaps we should be affording the same consideration to our other heroes that decide to don their kits and pick up their weapons one last time.

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