The 8 biggest Olympic comebacks of all time

As we approach the start of the 33rd Summer Olympic Games in Paris, we’re taking a look back at some of the biggest Olympic comebacks we’ve seen in its 128-year history.

Professional athletes push their bodies to the absolute limit to win the coveted Olympic medals, which can come with its own set of risks. No matter how fit and strong an athlete may be, there’s always a risk of injury when training for or competing in the Olympics.

When this happens, athletes often have to drop out of competing to look after their health and fitness. However, the desire to return to your sport better than ever post-injury can be a real source of motivation and comfort during difficult times.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the biggest and best Olympic comebacks sport has ever seen, and the athletes that have bounced back from injuries to win big at the quadrennial games.


The 8 biggest Olympic comebacks of all time

From diving to figure skating, our list of the biggest Olympic comebacks covers athletes across a range of sports from the Summer and Winter Olympic games.


1. Betty Cuthbert, Tokyo Summer Olympics, 1964

Nicknamed Australia’s ‘Golden Girl’, Betty Cuthbert won four Olympic Gold Medals and multiple world records throughout the course of her athletics career. Just before the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Cuthbert suffered a torn hamstring whilst training for the Games, which then lead to her pulling out all together.

Cuthbert then decided to retire from competing, saying in her book, “I hated being a public figure to be looked at, talked about, and pointed out every time I stepped outside my own front door… I wanted to become a normal twenty-two-year-old girl.”

Her retirement didn’t last long, though, as she decided to return to running in 1962 for the Commonwealth Games. In 1964, she made her grand comeback to the sport by winning her fourth gold medal, this time in the 400 metres.

To this day, she is the only Olympian to have won a gold medal in every sprinting event at the Olympics (100m, 200m, and 400m).


2. Greg Louganis, Seoul Summer Olympics, 1988

Greg Louganis is often hailed as ‘the greatest American diver’ of all time and competed in his first Olympics at just 16 years old. He won two gold medals at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and was expected to do the same in Seoul four years later.

However, he hit the back of his head on the springboard during the preliminaries, leading to a concussion and four stitches to close up the cut. Despite this, though, he went on to win gold medals in the 3m springboard and 10m platform events, making him the first man to win consecutive gold medals in both events.

Not only did Louganis’ comeback help him win gold, he also won ABC’s Wide World of Sports ‘Athlete of the Year’ title in the same year.


3. Mark McMorris, PyeongChang Winter Olympics, 2018

Mark McMorris is a Canadian snowboarder who’s won multiple medals at the Olympics, Worlds Championships, and Winter X Games for his expertise in slopestyle and big air events.

In 2017, McMorris went snowboarding with friends and ended up in a collision with a tree, coming away with a list of very serious injuries including a collapsed lung, ruptured spleen, and fractures to his jaw, arm, pelvis, and ribs.

Remarkably, he made a full recovery and competed in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics just 11 months after his accident, earning a bronze medal in the men’s Slopestyle event.


4. Felix Sanchez, London Summer Olympics, 2012

Felix Sanchez holds the title of being the first athlete ever to win a gold medal for the Dominican Republic at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. An expert at the 400m hurdles, Sanchez bagged an impressive 43 back-to-back wins for races between 2001-2004.

Unfortunately, during the 2004 Van Damme Memorial Meet, he suffered an injury to his hamstring which led to him having to stop his participation in the race early.

Sanchez did not return to race in the Olympics until 2012, where he became the oldest man to win gold at the 400m hurdles at the age of 35. Sanchez won the Laureus World Comeback of the Year Award for his impressive comeback to the Games.

Watch the moment on YouTube.


5. Harry Jerome, Tokyo Summer Olympics, 1964

Canadian track and field sprinter Harry Jerome set a total of seven world records in the 100m sprint and 100-yard dash in his athletic career.

Whilst competing at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth, Jerome ruptured a muscle in his thigh—an injury so severe that many feared he would never run again.

Proving all of his critics wrong, though, Jerome returned to compete in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games and won a bronze medal in the 100m sprint. He was awarded the Order of Canada in 1972 and was named Athlete of the Century in the province of British Columbia in the same year.

A statue was erected to commemorate his accomplishments at Stanley Park in British Columbia six years after his death in 1982.


6. Kerri Strug, Atlanta Summer Olympics, 1996

Kerri Strug competed for the USA gymnastics team in 1992 and 1996 as a member of the Magnificent Seven.

During the final rotation on the final day of the competition, the USA held a narrow lead, but after the first four gymnasts on the team were unable to land clean vaults for a high score, it came down to Strug’s two remaining vaults to ensure they could secure a win.

In her first vault, she managed to fall and injure her ankle, but her coach encouraged her to try just once more to make sure the team would win gold. She landed her second vault and secured the win, even with an injured ankle! It turned out she had a third-degree lateral sprain and tendon damage.

When it was time for the team to take the podium, her teammates refused to take the podium without her, leading to the famous photo of gymnastics coach Béla Károlyi carrying her to the podium to join her teammates.


7. Nancy Kerrigan, Lillehammer Winter Olympics, 1994

American Nancy Kerrigan has won multiple titles for her prowess in figure skating, although you’ll most likely know her for the incident she was involved in with rival figure skater, Tonya Harding.

During the 1994 Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, Kerrigan was attacked with a police baton on her right leg by who later turned out to be Harding’s ex-husband.

It was believed the intent of the attack was to stop her from being able to compete in both the Championships and the Olympics. Seven weeks after the attack, Kerrigan went on to win a silver medal in the Ladie’s Singles.


8. Annemiek van Vleuten, Tokyo Summer Olympics, 2021

Annemiek van Vleuten is a Dutch cyclist whose plethora of awards is testament to her road cycling abilities. In 2016, she attended the Olympics in Rio and was leading the pack in her race until her bike flipped coming around a sharp corner.

She ended up going over the handlebars and landed upside down on the curb at the side of the road, suffering three fractures in her back and a concussion. Despite the injuries, though, van Vleuten was back on her bike again just two weeks later.

In 2021, she got her second chance at an Olympic medal in the road race and clinched a silver medal. She then won gold in the time trial three days later.


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