Return at your peril: The sporting heroes who should have stayed in retirement

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Bjorn Borg


Iceman pin-up from Sweden who came to Wimbledon and won five times in succession, 1976-80, without shaving on a single occasion. Brought to the game unstoppable top-spin and perfect manners.


In 1983, aged 26. Went into a series of failed relationships, periods of drug abuse, financial catastrophe and an apparent suicide attempt.


At the 1991 Monte Carlo Open, using an old Donnay wooden racket: was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Jordi Arrese, an unfancied Spaniard. Changed to a modern graphite racket, yet lost in the first round of all 12 events he played. Quit in 1993.

World reaction

Perfectly expressed by John McEnroe; "It's hard to imagine someone that's had his success to be happy losing every match he plays."


Slunk out of Moscow after his last comeback game declining to play a doubles match with Boris Yeltsin. Now plays on seniors tour, still repaying business debts.

Famous last


"I'm just glad I played a good match on the tour" - Borg, after taking a set off Alexander Volkov in his last comeback game.



As a prophet for the return to tennis with wooden rackets.

Joe Bugner

Schoolboy discus champion who escaped from Hungary aged six. Defensive boxer, talked better game than he fought, took British heavyweight title from Henry Cooper in 1971. Went distance with Ali in 1975.

Stop-start career finished in 1984. Attempted film career in Hollywood, then emigrated to Australia to fight alimony demands of his first wife.

Came back in 1986, now 36, as "Aussie Joe", won three fights in Australia before partaking in a pantomime of a contest against Frank Bruno at White Hart Lane where he was beaten in five rounds.

General amusement. Celebrity status secured fleeting popularity on Sydney social scene.

Toyed with a discus career and leading an America's Cup bid. Now broke after wine business failed. Played torturer in 1994 Jean Claude van Damme film Street Fighter.

"I can take on anything and do it well. So watch out George [Foreman], because Joe's coming back" - Bugner, only a month ago

Imminent, or so he would have us believe.

Lloyd Honeyghan

Jamaican-born welterweight known as the "Ragamuffin man", who stopped the brilliant Don Curry in 1986. Won 43 of 48 fights including one of the quickest ever, beating Gene Hatcher in 45 seconds.

Retired after being wiped out by American Mark Breland in three one-sided rounds in his last world welterweight title fight in 1990.

Returned in 1993, denying it was for the money. Won Commonwealth title but lost second comeback fight and found himself fighting in places like Peterborough and Elephant and Castle. Quit in April under the advice of the Board of Control.

Not many people noticed.

Already working as a trainer to a number of boxers in Las Vegas.

"I still get a kick out of boxIng - and it pays the bills" - Honeyghan, forgetting for once that he wasn't back in boxing for the money

Vegas slot-machine attendant.

Ben Johnson

Set 100m world record and won gold at Olympics in 1988. Then took one hour and six cans of low- alcohol beer to provide the urine sample which tested positive for steroids and shocked the world.

In disgrace. Was involved in nightclub brawl, charged for pointing gun at a motorist on Toronto highway, campaigned against drugs.

Came back in 1991, was said to have received pounds 260,000 for first five races. Insisted he could reach old highs. Never came close. Comeback ended in March 1993 when he was found guilty of taking steroids for the second time.

Canadian press forgave him first time round. There was no such mercy the second.

Hiding away in Newmarket, Ontario, with his prized black Ferrari Testarossa, a Porsche and three Mazdas. Girlfriends are reported to be numerous.

"I'm ready to do something this year. I'm going to shock the world again" - Johnson, two months before his second drugs suspension

As a Mr Universe contestant. All other career options now closed.

Nigel Mansell

Moustachioed Brummie famous for a lion heart, whingeing manner and adulation from British fans. Defied financial hardship, broken neck and back to reach Formula One, winning championship in 1992.

Went to IndyCar racing in 1992, winning the series in his first of two seasons across the Atlantic.

Came back for four races for Williams last season, winning the Australian Grand Prix. No such success this year: first was too big for his cockpit, then came 10th at Imola and retired early at Barcelona. Parted with McLaren on 23 May.

General disappointment that, for once, Mansell's heart wasn't in it.

Retired to his golf course outside Exeter, placing all the blame on the car. Stresses that he is still only in temporary retirement.

"Some will say I'm the wrong side of 40. But the dedication and the motivation is there and you can taste it, feel it, want it" - Mansell, Feb 1995

In the Ryder Cup.

Diego Maradona

Argentine urchin, nimble of both feet and hand. Had world at his feet until 1991 when suspended by Italian league after cocaine was found in doping tests. Downfall continued with unsuccessful spell at Seville.

After estrangement from Seville, spent summer in the Argentinian pampas, rediscovering fishing, himself and the meaning of life.

Came back in October 1993. Sparked inconsistently until called up for World Cup squad aged 31. At USA 1994, played the divine football of old before testing positive for cocktail of five different drugs.

Revenge (from most of England); grief (from most of football).

One pitfall after another: recently fired from his job as a coach for throwing a bag of water at a linesman and insulting referee. At present being sued by his analyst.

"I did not take drugs. Fifa beat me over the head and it hurts me deeply" - Maradona, after testing positive at 1994 World Cup

Already signed to play for Santos when his Fifa ban ends in October.

Mark Spitz

Handsome 22-year-old with thick hair and Burt Reynolds moustache. Won seven Olympic golds and broke seven world records in the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Retired to cash in on success. Popped up on several Bob Hope shows, hoping to become an actor. Became a rich property developer.

Announced his comeback in March 1991, aged 41, with sights set on Barcelona Olympics. Started by challenging the world record holder, and then the Olympic champion. Lost to both and didn't win a race thereafter. Quit in March 1992.

From swimmers, there was a fear of embarrassing the great man. One swimmer who beat him even slowed down to keep Spitz in camera.

A return to making hair-care, skin-care and exercise equipment "infomercials" in Beverly Hills.

"Challenges don't frighten me. I just hope to be as good as I ever was. I'm willing to find out, to expose myself to failure" - Spitz, March 1991

In a synchronised swimming duo with Duncan Goodhew.

Torvill and Dean

Policeman and insurance clerk from Nottingham whose popularity caught 16 million Britons spellbound in front of the box as they danced their way through Bolero to gold at the 1984 Olympics.

Cashed in on their medals by performing ice shows globally. Put paid to rumours of romance by marrying other people.

After 10 years out - Torvill was 36, Dean 35 - they won the British and the European championship and, at the Lillehammer Olympics, were in pole position before the final round when they failed to please the judges and only won bronze.

Outrage that they had not won; loss of faith in the ice dance scoring system.

Withdrawal from the World Championships in March the following month. Then another ice dance tour which sold fabulously thanks to their recent publicity.

"We came here to win a medal. And if you have a preference of colour . . . why not gold?" - Dean at Lillehammer, on the eve of winning bronze

Only possible if they please all and dance downt he aisle.