2016 saw many of sport’s biggest names take their final bow. For some, it was their last chance to shine on the grandest stage of all, the 2016 Rio Olympics. There were others who decided to call it a day after many a year at the top of their sport.
For some of the less fortunate retirees, repetitive injuries had brought a premature end to promising careers. In terms of talent, this year might have seen the biggest loss to sports in terms of the athletes who called time on their sporting journey.
Perhaps the greatest Olympic athlete of his era and all-time, definitely the front-runner going by the number of gold medals; a 15-year-old Michael Phelps had made his Olympic bow at the 2000 Sydney Games in the 200-metre butterfly event.
Five Olympics and 23 gold medals later, Phelps had won it all and in style, coming back at the age of 31 to win four golds, having retired initially after London 2012. The Baltimore Bullet leaves a legacy and a record that will be very, very tough to match, let alone beat.
In a massively hyped shooting contingent, it was the seasoned pro who came the closest. Abhinav Bindra’s sight broke but the 34-year-old finished fourth in the 10-metre Air Rifle event.
Bindra walked away as India’s most successful individual in the Olympics, the only man or woman from the country to win an individual gold, 108 years after Norman Pritchard had won the country’s first medal in Paris. This is hopefully not the end of the Olympic road for Bindra: hopefully we will see the ace shooter in some other capacity, coaching another potential gold medal winner in 2020 or 2024.
This was one retirement that caught everyone off-guard as the blond German had just won his first F1 driver’s title five days before a shocking announcement that he was calling time on his Formula One career.
Rosberg started his career in 2006 with Williams, the same manufacturer with which his father Keke had won the title in 1982. His best years in the cockpit came with the Mercedes team, Rosberg finishing a close second to team-mate Lewis Hamilton, before winning the 2016 Championship in the last race of the season, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan
2016 saw two of the biggest greats in basketball history and of the last two decades retire from the game. Bryant and Duncan finished third and 14th on the NBA’s all-time scoring charts, have a cumulative 33 appearances in NBA’s All-Star Game, 10 NBA titles, three regular season MVP awards, five finals MVP awards and made all the All-NBA team 30 times.
It’s almost as if these men were destined for basketball greatness: Duncan was picked first by the San Antonio Spurs in 1997. As for Bryant, he was picked 13th by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996 but won the All-Star Dunk competition the very next year and was nominated to NBA’s All-Star team in only his second season in the NBA. As for Duncan, the Spurs won more than 50 regular season games and made it to the playoffs in all of the seasons that he played for them.
Other notable NBA retirements of 2016 include three-point shooting machine Ray Allen and Amar’e Stoudemire.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Iker Casillas, Steven Gerrard and Miroslav Klose
The captains of the last two World Cup-winning squads, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Iker Casillas, called time on their international careers after the 2016 Euros held in France.
While Schweinsteiger will be remembered for a heroic performance in the 2014 World Cup final, covering more than 15 kilometres on the night, Casillas will not remember the same tournament so fondly but two Euro titles and Spain’s first World Cup title in South Africa in 2010 will mean that the ex-Real Madrid stopper will remain one of the most successful international captains ever.
These two continue to play club football, but Steven Gerrard and Miroslav Klose took the decision to end their professional football playing days. Gerrard will always have a place in the hearts of the Anfield faithful while Klose, not as prolific for his clubs as he was known to be with the international team, featured for the some of the best names in the game, including Kaiserslautern, Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen and Lazio.
Juan Carlos Ferrero, Nikolay Davydenko and David Nalbandian
Rafael Nadal may be one of the best Spaniards to ever play the game but Juan Carlos Ferrero was part of the golden generation alongside Alex Corretja, Carlos Moya and Albert Costa to bring the country into the tennis world’s spotlight after a brief hiatus.
Ferrero, the 2003 Roland Garros Champion was ranked World no. 1 in 2003. David Nalbandian, the Argentine, got his big break when he reached the final of the 2002 Wimbledon only to lose to Lleyton Hewitt. Ranked as high as No. 3 in 2006, he reached the Davis Cup final three times with Argentina.
Nikolay Davydenko wasn’t your everyday tennis player, quiet and unassuming on and off the court. The Russian was remarkably consistent finishing in the top 10 of the ATP rankings for five straight years from 2005 to 2009, winning the season ending 2009 ATP Masters, defeating Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro en route to the title.
Brendon McCullum, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Shane Watson and Tillakaratne Dilshan
International cricket lovers will miss Baz shuffling across his stumps to whack bowlers off the leg sides, Chanderpaul coming to the crease and pounding the bails to make a mark on the pitch, the last player of the Australian golden generation Shane Watson and Sri Lanka’s Dilshan playing the audacious DilScoop.
Each of these men will be remembered for their unique ways: McCullum was one of the most destructive opening batsman to play the game and also one of the most innovative captains as seen in the 2015 ODI World Cup played in Australia and New Zealand. Chanderpaul, belonging to the same era as Brian Lara, never received his due share of credit but was the most consistent batsman for the West Indies in a turbulent time period post Lara’s retirement.
Watson, very boombastic with the bat, could also do a handy job with the ball but stopped bowling towards the end of his career due to recurring back injuries. Dilshan managed to distinguish himself as a batsman in a team that also contained Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, mainly due to his brisk rate of scoring at the top of the order.
Even to non-viewers of the National Football League, Peyton Manning is a recognised name and ends a 18-year playing career as possibly the greatest quarterback in the history of the game, having been drafted as No. 1 pick by the Indianapolis Colts in 1998.
After ending his career with the Denver Broncos, Manning holds many NFL records, including the most number of passing yards (71,940), Pro Bowl appearances (14), touchdown passes (539) and 4,000-yard passing seasons (14). Manning also won two Super Bowls, one with the Colts and the Broncos each.
The greatest track-and-field athlete to retire this year, hurdler Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic bid adieu at the age of 38.
“Super Felix” was best known for his two gold medals in the 400 metre hurdles in the 2004 and the 2012 Olympic Games. He won his country’s first ever gold medal in 2004 and also won two World Championships in 2001 and 2003.
Despite being sidetracked with injuries after the 2004 Games, Sanchez entered the 2012 Games and won the gold with a time of 47.63 seconds, the same time that he had posted the final in 2004 and became the oldest man to win the 400 metre hurdles. He was also awarded the Laureus World Comeback of the Year for 2012.