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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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 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
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.
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