Put yourself in the mind of a sport star.
You’re midway through your career, still competitive, maybe even at the top of your game. But you suddenly decide to retire. Has it all become too much? Are injuries taking their toll? Do you miss family time? Have you lost interest in the sport you’ve competed in all your life?
These are all reasons that sport stars have given for what has been deemed a ‘premature’ retirement.
The trouble is, some of the sportsmen and women that have retired ‘too early’ were sporting mega stars.
So, who are arguably the five biggest sporting stars to have retired with plenty of gas left in the tank?
- Björn Borg – Tennis – retired aged 26
Seventies heartthrob. Winner of 11 Grand Slam titles. Bjorn Borg had it all going for him when he retired in 1983. Borg had a superb career, particularly on grass and clay, winning the French Open six times and Wimbledon five, including a four-year domination at Roland Garros from 1978-81.
Borg was also the first tennis player to earn more than $1m in a year. So why quit?
Simply, the attention his success earned also proved to be his downfall. He was fed up with the demands on his time from sponsors and media and decided to give it all up.
Eight years after his retirement he made a calamitous comeback when failing to win a single match between 1991 and 1993 before he halted his career for the second time.
Borg can still sleep easy though. He remains fifth on the all-time list of Grand Slam winners and has a successful fashion chain in his native Sweden.
- Casey Stoner – MotoGP – retired aged 27
When people think of MotoGP legends, most think of Valentino Rossi, few of Casey Stoner. Maybe that’s because the Australian quit the sport with so much more to give.
Stoner’s ability on the fastest motorbikes on the planet was incalculable. He routinely made a lumbering Ducati compete against the faster Yamaha and Honda machines in the late noughties and took his first title in 2007.
His prowess on the misbehaving Ducati led many to realise just how special a rider he was but he soon grew frustrated, leaving for Honda in 2011 and winning his second title after taking victories in 10 of the 17 races.
Midway through the 2012 season Stoner announced his retirement from MotoGP, citing a lack of family time, annoyance with political issues within the sport and a decreasing enjoyment of riding.
Stoner, who won his home race at Phillip Island six consecutive times, had been testing with Honda up to 2016 and has now switched to Ducati. Could a full-time return in 2017 be on the cards?
- Justine Henin – Tennis – retired aged 25
Despite her diminutive appearance Justine Henin was a heavyweight in women’s tennis.
Her distinctive cries of “Allez!” at Roland Garros became her trademark as she claimed four French Open titles in her career tally of seven Grand Slams.
But, in 2008, when ranked world number one, Henin announced her shock departure from tennis, enabling her to feel less burden of expectation and to concentrate on other projects such as her tennis school.
However, her retirement ended just 19 months after it began as she returned to competition at the Brisbane International in preparation for the Australian Open.
Chasing a career Grand Slam at Wimbledon, Henin fractured her elbow after slipping and didn’t play again in 2010. A brief pre-season in 2011 was unsuccessful after aggravating her elbow and she retired again aged 28.
Henin continues to run her academy and is an ambassador for UNICEF post-career.
- Carolina Klüft – Athletics – retired aged 29
The second Swede on this list, Carolina Klüft was the queen of athletics when she decided to switch disciplines, ditching the heptathlon to concentrate on the long jump.
Undoubtedly, in many people’s eyes, she retired from the heptathlon too soon. Citing a lack of motivation, Klüft stepped away aged 25.
The news came as a huge shock, with Klüft dominating her event in the noughties by claiming one Olympic and three consecutive world championship golds.
When she did solely focus on the long jump, she struggled to make an impact and could only manage ninth in the Beijing Olympic final.
Injuries played their part in Klüft’s eventual retirement from the sport. She had suffered a bad hamstring injury in 2009 and wasn’t the same athlete post recovery, often claiming her legs had lost their spring.
In hindsight it’s easy to suggest that she could have continued with the heptathlon for several more years but, had she succeeded in her long jump career, perhaps she wouldn’t have featured on this list.
- Miguel Indurain – Cycling – retired aged 32
Known as ‘Big Mig’, Miguel Indurain will go down as one of the greatest riders ever to have competed.
His palmares – list of achievements – includes five consecutive Tour de France wins from 1991-95, including two Giro d’Italia-Tour doubles in 1992 and 1993.
He also won Olympic and world gold in the time-trial and took to the podium three times in the world road race.
However, with a lucrative two-year contract on the table, he decided to quit the sport aged 32 despite being in good enough condition to win a sixth Tour.
Indurain claimed this was due to the sport getting harder and harder for him but, compared to other professional cyclists, he could at least have seen out the contract he was offered and potentially have won the Tour twice more.
Sceptics have claimed his retirement just before the era of doping came to prominence was particularly suspect, but the Spaniard has never tested positive and his legendary results remain intact.
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