Eye Of The Tiger
As Tiger Woods approached the final green at Augusta on Sunday evening, we were all struck with a sense of nostalgia, but also with delight. The delight mainly comes from the former, but also from a sense of unexpectedness. Woods has done more for golf than any individual player ever has, and to see him return to the peak of his powers – at the scene of his best days – struck a chord with sports fans because it was so unlikely. The comeback seemed impossible. But how about this selection of other unlikely sporting comebacks?
NIKI LAUDA, 1976
If you don’t know the story of Niki Lauda, then you should have a watch of Ron Howard’s 2013 movie, ‘Rush’. But basically, the outline of his story is as follows: Just prior to the 1976 German Grand Prix, Lauda tried to garner support for a boycott of the race due to the lack of safety equipment, fire marshals and general safety infrastructure. Hours later Lauda suffered severe burns when his car swerved off the track and burst into flames.
He was left with extensive scarring both physically and emotionally. In spite of this, Lauda returned to the circuit a few weeks after the accident and went on to win the South African Grand Prix just seven months later before eventually retiring for a final time in 1985.
If you haven’t seen this live or on replay, you’ve definitely had a Liverpool fan relay this Champions League final play-by-play style. Going in at half-time 3-0 down, Liverpool called upon their European Cup pedigree to stage one of the most unlikely comebacks in the history of a top-level football. Paolo Maldini and a Hernan Crespo brace saw AC Milan well on their way to yet another European title, but there was something special in Rafa Benitez’s half-time team talk.
The trifecta of Gerrard, Smicer and Alonso saw Liverpool draw level by the hour mark. As the game went to penalties, it fell to Andriy Shevchenkoto keep the tie alive, but a save from Jerzy Dudek saw the famous trophy travel back to Merseyside in dramatic fashion.
Foreman’s career could have easily been defined by his loss to Muhammad Ali in Zaire. He was in the prime of his life at 25 and despite following this defeat up with victories over big names like Joe Frazier, it would have been deemed normal for his career to peter out given the hype around that fight.
Nothing notable could have saved him in the short-term. Despite all the odds, Foreman’s moment would come at the tender age of 45, when he would knock out Michael Moorer to win the WBA, IBF and lineal heavy-weight titles. To make this feat even more amazing, he took a decade away from the sport following a loss to Jimmy Young in Puerto Rico. Nothing can defy time like George Foreman could.
KURT ANGLE, ATLANTA 1996
Kurt Angle is known best for his professional wrestling career, where he gulps milk atop rogue milk trucks and people telling him in song that he, in other words, wasn’t very good. During his Olympic trials in 1996 for amateur wrestling, Angle suffered a severe neck injury, fracturing two vertebrae. In spite of this, he won the trials and went on to spend the next five months rehabilitating. Angle should have had no chance of a podium finish, let alone a gold medal. However, he beat Abbas Jadidi in the final of the heavy weight competition – claiming the most unlikely of Olympic feats in frontan adoring home crowd.
EDWULF, CHELTENHAM, 2017
Edwulf, saddled by Joseph O’Brien, was a 5/1 chance to take the four-miler at the Festival. In the final strides, in the race eventually won by the heroic Tiger Roll, he appeared to collapse and his status was critical. On death’s door, staff somehow managed to revive him. Resting at home for nine months, Edwulf was nursed back to health before a non-event of a reappearance in December. So, by the time hisentry for the Irish Gold Cup came in, he was generally an afterthought, with an SP of 33/1.
He travelled poorly in the early stages, near the rear.However, he seemed to grow in confidence as the race progressed and where he made his move six-out. He tracked the leaders all the way until he headed themclose home, completing a fairytale for O’Brien and his rider on the day, Derek O’Connor.