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Comeback Athletes

On June 29, 2011, news broke that Tiger Woods had secured an endorsement deal with Kowa Company Ltd., the Japanese manufacturer of Valentin Kowa pain relieving heat rub. It’s his first deal since the very embarrassing sex scandal that broke in December 2009 and cost him his marriage, his squeaky-clean image and four of his sponsors. When news of his personal troubles spilled into the public eye, Accenture, AT&T and Gatorade terminated their sponsorship deals with him, and Gillette allowed their agreement with him to lapse, hitting the athlete’s $90 million endorsement portfolio hard. The new deal is a three-year agreement that includes advertisements online, in print and on television, and although the price of the deal has not been disclosed, it nonetheless represents sorely needed good news for the golfer. However, it remains to be seen whether or not it’s the beginning of a comeback.

Comebacks are by no means guaranteed. The list of athletes who have retired and then returned with disappointing results is long. Swimming legend Mark Spitz won nine gold medals at the 1972 Olympics, but when he attempted a comeback 20 years later he failed to meet the minimum qualifying time. Tennis great Bjorn Borg won 11 Grand Slam titles before retiring at the age of 26, but when he attempted a comeback eight years later he was beaten effortlessly by 52nd place holder Jordi Arrese. Even Muhammad Ali wasn’t exempt. When “The Greatest” attempted a comeback in 1980, he was defeated by Larry Holmes, and it wasn’t long before he was forced to face reality and walk away.

If this is, in fact, a comeback for Woods, it be remarkable, as it would be the second time his career has rebounded from a potentially fatal blow. In 2008, just two days after winning the US Open, he announced that he was scheduled to undergo knee surgery for a damaged anterior cruciate ligament. The timing would cause him to miss the Open Championship and the PGA Championship, but more worrisome was the effect that it could have on his career. A damaged ACL is a common athletic injury that has taken many pros off the field permanently. However, Woods came back to the links in 2009 and finished in second place in the PGA championship. Whether his luck holds out a second time is an open question. But if he does, he would rejoin an assortment of athletes who recaptured their former glory after physical injuries, messy scandals and even jail time.

Click ahead to see the athletes who defied logic and came back to their respective sports after conventional wisdom pronounced their careers dead and buried.

By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 30 June 2011

Streeter Lecka | Getty Images