June 21, 2024


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20 Athletes Who Retired Earlier than Expected

Young and at the top of their game when they retired, the majority of these elite athletes were not even 30 when they ended their professional careers in the sport to which they dedicated endless hours of training and the best years of their lives.

Let’s look at 20 athletes who retired earlier than expected.

1) Bo Jackson

Bo Jackson
The first athlete to be selected as an All-Star in both MLB and the NFL, he retired at 28. Bo Jackson #16 of the Kansas City Royals and American League Allstars bats against the National League Allstars during the Major League Baseball All Star Game July 11, 1989 at Anaheim Stadium in Anaheim, California. The American League beat the National League 5 -3.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

A fantastic athlete who combined football and baseball and managed to play both at once. He played with the Kansas City Royals from 1986 to 1990 and with the Los Angeles Raiders for four seasons.

During a playoff game in 1991 against the Cincinnati Bengals, he suffered a hip injury that ended his football career at 28 years old. He retired for good three years later at 31

2) Brandon Roy

Brandon Roy
PORTLAND, OR – APRIL 23: Brandon Roy #7 of the Portland Trail Blazers runs down court after making a shot to overcome a 23 point deficit to defeat the Dallas Mavericks 84-82 in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 23, 2011 at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images/Getty Images

This is the story of an NBA career cut short by injury.

After six seasons playing for the Portland Trail blazers and Minnesota Timberwolves, Brandon Roy announced his retirement from basketball due to a degenerative knee condition at 29-years-old. The basketball league said goodbye to one of the NBA’s best guards who had made three All-Star teams by 25.

3) Bjorn Borg

Bjorn Borg
NEW YORK – CIRCA 1981: Bjorn Borg of Sweden checks the strings in his racket during a match at the Men’s 1981 US Open Tennis Championships circa 1981 at the National Tennis Center in the Queens borough of New York City.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images)/Getty Images

In 1983, the Swedish tennis player with film star looks, announced his retirement from tennis at 26 years old citing mental burnout and that tennis was no longer fun.

He had played 16 Grand Slam finals, winning 11 of them including six French Open titles and five Wimbledon titles. The Swede gave it all up in his prime.

4) Barry Sanders

Barry Sanders
TAMPA, FL – OCTOBER 2, 1994: Barry Sanders #20 of the Detroit Lions carries the ball as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeat the Detroit Lions in an NFL football game 24-14 on October 2, 1994 at Tampa Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
Brian Cleary/Getty Images/Getty Images

In 1999, the NFL star announced the end of his 10-year career as the greatest running back in the Detroit Lions history. He was 31 years old and his decision shocked many in the sports world who were definitely not expecting his retirement.

Sanders held records for most consecutive 1,000 yard seasons (10) and the most seasons with at least 1,100 rushing yards (10, tied with Walter Payton).

5) Calvin Johnson

Calvin Johnson
CHICAGO – JANUARY 03: Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson plays against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois on January 3, 2016.
Raymond Boyd/Getty Images/Getty Images

Highly regarded as one of the best wide receivers in the history of the NFL, he played for nine years with the Detroit lions.

After the 2015 season due to health issues and claiming he had lost passion for the game, the ex two-time All-American retired at 30 years of age. The “Megatron”was done.

6) Casey Stoner

Casey Stoner
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA – FEBRUARY 02: Casey Stoner of Australia and Ducati Team heads down a straight during the MotoGP Tests In Sepang at Sepang Circuit on February 2, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images/Getty Images

The Australian motorcycle racer is a two-time MotoGP World Champion, in 2007 and 2011.

He called it a day when he was 27 years old to spend more time with his family and because he fell out of love with the sport and its behind-the-scenes trials and tribulations.

7) Lorena Ochoa

Lorena Ochoa
Lorena Ochoa loses her cap in the gusting winds at the 2007 Ginn Open at Ginn Reunion Resort in Reunion, Florida on April 15, 2007.
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images/Getty Images

Golf is one of the very few sports where age is really not an issue for elite golfers provided they are in good mental and physical health.This is why when Lorena Ochoa announced her retirement from the game at 29 years old, eyebrows were raised.

She was the winner of the 2007 Women’s British Open and the 2008 ANA Inspiration tournament.

8) Eric Cantona

Eric Cantona
Eric Cantona (Manchester United) in action during the 1995-1996 season.
Christian Liewig/TempSport/Corbis via Getty Images/Getty Images

A charismatic player, French forward Eric Cantona, retired from soccer in 1997 at age 30 citing he had lost his passion for the game.

There is no question he was at the height of his game playing for Manchester United where he helped the team win four Premier league titles.

9) Gabriela Sabatini

Gabriela Sabatini
Argentinian tennis player Gabriela Sabatini holds the Winner’s trophy after defeating German Steffi Graf here 8 september 1990 during the Women’s US Open Final at Flushing Meadow.
CAROL NEWSOM/AFP via Getty Images/Getty Images

In 1990, after defeating the then world No.1 Steffi Graf, she won the only Grand Slam in her career, the U.S. Open.

Six years later, the best Argentinian tennis player of all time announced her retirement at 26 years old due to mental exhaustion.

10) Ian Thorpe

 Ian Thorpe
ATHENS – AUGUST 15: Michael Phelps of USA and Ian Thorpe of Australia are seen after the men’s swimming 200 metre freestyle semi-final on August 15, 2004 during the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games at the Main Pool of the Olympic Sports Complex Aquatic Centre in Athens, Greece. Thrope won the heat.
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images/Getty Images

At 15, he became the youngest world champion at the 1998 World Swimming Championships. Two years later, he was the darling of the Sydney Olympics and the most successful Australian Olympian ever, winning the 400m freestyle before going on to win another three medals.

In Athens 2004, he won the 200m freestyle against Pieter van den Hoogenband and a new swimming star called Michael Phelps in what was unofficially dubbed ‘The Race of the Century’. The young Australian announced his retirement at only 24.

11) Justine Henin

Justine Henin
KEY BISCAYNE – FL – MARCH 28, 2008: Justine Henin of Belgium returns a shot agaInst Angelique Kerber of Germany during day five of the Sony Ericsson Open at the Crandon Park Tennis Center on March 28, 2008 in Key Biscayne, Florida.
John Capella/Sports Imagery/Getty Images/Getty Images

The Belgian tennis star announced her retirement from professional tennis at 26 when she was the world No.1 claiming she needed to take a break from the sport.

She returned in 2010 but a year later, she retired for good due to an elbow injury.

12) Jim Brown

Jim Brown
Jim Brown Running with Football (Original Caption) Jim Brown (32) has just taken hand off from Quarterback Frank Ryan (13) in game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Considered one of the greatest players to ever play in the NFL and the NFL’s all-time eighth-leading rusher, Brown exited the game at the age of 29 after the 1965 season.

He had played for nine seasons in the NFL where he was named the Most Valuable Player in three seasons and was the NFL rushing champion for eight seasons.

13) Joe Calzaghe

Joe Calzaghe
NEWPORT, WALES – OCTOBER 3: Joe Calzaghe poses during a photo session on October 3, 2007 in Newport, Wales. Calzaghe posed prior to his super-middleweight title unification fight with Mikkel Kessler (DEN). (Photo by John Gichigi/Getty Images)
John Gichigi/Getty Images/Getty Images

Known as the “Pride of Wales,” Calzaghe ranked as the longest-reigning champion in boxing with an undefeated record in the super middleweight and light heavyweight categories.

In 2009, aged 37 and still at the top of his game, Calzaghe retired as a reigning World Champion.

14) Luke Kuechly

Luke Kuechly
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – DECEMBER 29: Luke Kuechly #59 of the Carolina Panthers before their game against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium on December 29, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images/Getty Images

After eight seasons playing for the Panthers, the football middle linebacker decided to retire after suffering two serious concussions.He was 28 years old.

Considered one of the most talented linebackers of his generation, he exited the game as a seven-time time Pro Bowler, and five-time first-team NFL All-Pro.

15) Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson
1989-1990: Guard Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers in action during a game at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California.
Stephen Dunn /Allsport/Getty Images

Magic Johnson retirement shocked the basketball world.

One of the greatest NBA players of all time, he was 31 years of age in 1991 when he announced he had contracted the HIV virus and was retiring from the sport.

He briefly returned to the sport to participate in the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games where the “Dream Team” won the gold medal.

16) Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan
LANDOVER, MD – NOVEMBER 03: Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls dribbles up court during a NBA basketball game against the Washington Bullets on November 3, 1990 at Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland.
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images/Getty Images

In 1993, after three NBA successive championships between 1990 and 1993, the Chicago Bulls star and the player who many consider responsible for making basketball a global sport, abruptly announced his retirement from the game. He had lost the drive to play after his father was murdered by two teenagers.

Two years later, he returned to the NBA and the Chicago Bulls, helping the Bulls win an additional three straight NBA championships from 1996 to 1998.

17) Nico Rosberg

Nico Rosberg
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – NOVEMBER 27: Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP celebrates finishing second on the podium and winning the World Drivers Championship during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Clive Mason/Getty Images/Getty Images

Just days after winning the Formula One World Championship in 2016 driving for Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, the German racing driver announced his shock retirement from Formula One at 27 years old.

“I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right,” he said.

18) Norman Whiteside

Norman Whiteside
A frugal star, he broke Pele’s record for the youngest ever World Cup finals appearance. Aug 1988: A portrait of Norman Whiteside of Manchester United taken during the club photocall at Old Trafford In Manchester. Allsport
Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

A frugal star, he made his debut with Manchester United as a 17-year-old teen.

The youngest player to score in a League Cup and FA Cup final as well as the youngest player to take part in a FIFA World Cup, Whiteside ended his career abruptly at 26 years old due to a knee injury. He retired at the age many soccer player start to flourish.

19) Shannon Miller

Shannon Miller
Like many elite gymnasts, Sharon Miller retired in her early twenties. ATLANTA – JULY 23: Shannon Miller of the United States gathers herself while competing in the balance beam, part of the Womens Team Gymnastics competition at the 1996 Olympic Games on July 23, 1996 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images/Getty Images

Shannon Miller was only 19 years old when she won two Olympic gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

She retired four years later at the age of 23

20) Yana Kudryavtseva

Yana Kudryavtseva
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – AUGUST 20: Yana Kudryavtseva of Russia competes during the Women’s Individual All-Around Rhythmic Gymnastics Final on Day 15 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Rio Olympic Arena on August 20, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Amin Mohammad Jamali/Getty Images/Getty Images

The Russian former rhythmic gymnast and three-time World Champion in the All-around, announced her retirement in 2017 when she was 19 years old as a consequence of a leg injury.

Whereas hardly anyone has retirement plans as a teenager, this is not unusual in the world of elite gymnastics. The demands of intense and gruelling training eventually take a toll on the gymnasts bodies and majority retire in their late teens or early twenties.