The Rundown

Back from the brink: Top 10 sporting resurrections

The Rundown

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When Wimbledon Football Club was forcibly moved from South West London to Milton Keynes in 2004, it seemed like the end of an era for a much-loved team whose 'Crazy Gang' had lit up football in the 1980s and 1990s with their brash, direct approach.

The beautiful game it wasn't, but you had to admire the chutzpah of a side who had won three promotions in four years to reach English football's top tier in 1985 just nine years after playing league football for the first time.

We thought we'd see the last of the Wimbledon name when the club was bought, relocated and rebranded as the MK Dons in 2002, but a group of fans disgruntled at the move set up a new club, AFC Wimbledon, who have now won promotion to the Football League.

It completes an amazing comeback for Wimbledon - and has inspired us to look at 10 of the greatest sportsmen and women ever to fight their way back to the very top after the world assumed that they had disappeared forever.

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Tennis - Andre Agassi

After a dazzling early career that saw him win three Grand
Slams, he was plagued by injury and drug abuse after hitting top spot in
the mid-1990s. His career seemed over as he plummeted in the world rankings,
bottoming out at number 141 in November 1997.

But he hit the gym the year after and got back to his best.
Went on to win five more Grand Slams, regain the world number one ranking and
complete a career Grand Slam by winning the French Open in 1999.  

Boxing - George
Foreman

Foreman (pictured top right) had his reputation as one of the world's greatest
ever heavyweight boxers sealed by the middle of the 1970s, beating the
legendary Joe Frazier in 1973 (Frazier was then the undisputed and undefeated
heavyweight champion) and losing to Muhammad Ali in the famous 'Rumble in
the Jungle' in Zaire a year later.

He retired after becoming very ill following a fight against
Jimmy Young in 1977 - an episode which he saw as a near-death experience, and
which prompted him to retire and become both a born-again Christian and an
ordained minister.

Ten years later he shocked the world by returning to the ring
aged 38, and after some impressive displays - including taking a peak-condition
Evander Holyfield the distance in 1991 - he eventually became world champion
once more by beating Michael Moorer to
claim a world title at the age of 45 after flooring the champ with a right hand
in the 10th round while trailing badly on points.

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Basketball - Michael
Jordan

Sprang one of sport's most shocking early
retirements in 1993 when he tried to become a professional baseball player.

From one of sport's great heroes to something of a curiosity
and even a laughing stock, the sensitive and intelligent Jordan was deeply hurt
by the sneering that his hubris attracted and even wrote a book defending his
actions, called 'I can't accept not trying'.

But all credit to the great man for not descending into a
sort of David Icke cycle of self-justification. He simply returned to the NBA after
two years out and led the Chicago Bulls to three consecutive titles for the
second time in his career. He was, if anything, even better in his second
incarnation than in his dazzling first.

He retired again in 2000 only to make a second comeback - this
time with the Washington Wizards - just over 18 months later. He failed to lead
the side to the play-offs in his two seasons, but scored more than 40 points in
a game three times and earned a place in the 2003 All-Star game at the age of
40.

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Golf - Lee Westwood

The Worksop wonder burst on to the golfing scene in the mid-1990s,
winning tournaments all over the world, ending Colin Montgomerie's run of seven
European Tour Order of Merit titles and reaching fourth spot in the world rankings
before his 30th birthday. But he hit the skids in spectacular fashion as a career
break and a decision to rebuild his swing saw him lose his game completely.

Years in the wilderness followed, time in which he could
barely find a fairway as he dropped to 259th in the rankings. He started to get
things back in 2003 with a couple of wins, but it was only in 2007 that he
started to win again regularly and since then he has gone on to become the
world's most consistent player - and world number one.

"There is no other level," he said after finally
coming out of the slump in 2008. " I made that mistake back in 2000 and it
cost me three years of a career."

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Football - Paolo
Rossi

We've thought long and hard about which footballer to
include in this list. Should it be Roger Milla, persuaded out of a three-year international
retirement by the President of Cameroon before becoming the undisputed star of
the 1990 World Cup? Tony Adams, whose life was in tatters after he was sent to
prison for four months for drink-driving, but who continued to fight alcoholism
and became an inspirational captain of both Arsenal and England?

In the end, however, we've gone for Italian striker Paolo
Rossi. His career was finished in 1980 when he received a three-year ban from
the game for his part in the extraordinary Totonero betting scandal that rocked
Serie A in 1980.

Rossi continued to protest his innocence throughout his time
away from the game, and had his ban reduced to two years on appeal just in time
to be called up by a desperately out-of-sorts Italian side ahead of the 1982
World Cup in Spain.

He was almost dropped after shambolic performances in the
opening three matches of the tournament, but began to hit his stride thereafter
as Italy beat defending champions Argentina.

In the next match Rossi scored an extraordinary hat-trick to
send Brazil out of the tournament and put his side in the semi-finals, where he
scored two more goals before scoring again in the 3-1 win in the final against
Germany.

Rossi's comeback was complete: he had won not only the World Cup but also the Golden Boot, and was named both European and World Player of
the Year later in 1982 before continuing a glittering career that saw him win
two Scudettos and a European Cup with Juventus.

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Formula One - Niki
Lauda

The 1975 F1 world champion was on top of the world halfway
through the 1976 season: he won five of the first nine races of the year and looked on
course for a second consecutive title in his Ferrari.

But a horror crash at the Nurburgring seemed likely to end his career - and very nearly his life. He swerved off the track on the
second lap of the race with suspected suspension failure, bounced off an
embankment and smashed into the car of fellow driver Brett Lunger before
grinding to a halt and bursting into flames.

Trapped in the burning wreckage, TV viewers watched in
horror as it seemed the Austrian must surely be dead - but Lunger and several
other drivers managed to pull him from the crash.

With severe burns to the head and extensive lung damage from
inhaling toxic gases, Lauda lapsed into a coma soon after.

Unbelievably, however, he came back from the brink despite missing
most of his right ear and being unable to blink properly. He returned to action
after missing just two races, finishing second in the championship, and then
won the title the very next year. After retiring a couple of years later he
made a return in 1982 to earn funds for his fledgling airline, and was crowned
F1 champion once more in 1984 by just half a point over McLaren team-mate Alain
Prost.

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Tennis - Jennifer
Capriati

The ultimate child prodigy
in sport, Capriati became a global superstar despite barely being into her
teens. She reached the semi-finals of the 1990 French Open at the age of 14, entered
the world's top 10 later that year and won six titles - including denying Steffi
Graf Olympic gold - over the next three years.

Yet the teenager was totally unprepared to handle this level
of success and descended into drug abuse and petty criminality,
leading to convictions for shoplifting and drug possession. A first-round loss
to an unknown journeywoman in the first round of the 1993 US Open was the
beginning of the end. She played just one match over the next two years, completely
dropped off the WTA rankings, and appeared destined to be little more than a
warning footnote in the tennis history books.

Her persistent attempts to get back into the professional game
from 1996 onwards at first looked little more than an embarrassment as she barely
won more than the occasional match, but a first-round win at Wimbledon in 1998 was
the precursor of her recovery.

She improved again and again over the next two seasons, then
in 2001 defeated Martina Hingis in the Australian Open to finally fulfil her
promise by winning a maiden Grand Slam title, 11 years after first making a
Grand Slam semi-final.

She went on to win the French Open later that year and
defended her Australian crown in Melbourne before injuries finally put paid to
her career in 2004 at the age of 28.

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Ice hockey - Gordie
Howe

The man known simply as 'Mr Hockey' was one of the great ice
hockey players of all time, winning the Stanley Cup four times with the Detroit
Red Wings and retiring in 1971 at the age of 43 after finally admitting defeat
in his attempts to get over a chronic wrist ailment. He was inducted into the
NHL Hall of Fame a year later.

A year after that, however, a pioneering surgery gave him a
chance to return to the ice as part of the newly-formed World Hockey
Association - and he ended up playing for eight more years, even leading the Hartford
Whalers to the play-offs in 1980 at the age of 51 before hanging up his skates again.

But still Howe wasn't done - and 17 years later he was
signed to a one-game contract that saw him take to the ice one last time for
the Detroit Vipers IHL team. He was 69!

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Cricket - Bobby
Simpson

The Australian was one of the outstanding players in
his nation's illustrious cricket history, making his Test debut in 1957 and
going on to captain his side from 1963 to 1967. He was Wisden's cricketer of
the year in 1965, and when he retired in 1968 the world of Test cricket was a
poorer place for his absence.

He spent the next decade dabbling in press and PR work, and
playing occasional weekend cricket for his local side in the Sydney suburbs -
but when Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket poached most of the country's top
players in 1977 he was persuaded to come out of retirement to lead Australia's
official Test side.

Despite the long absence he hit the ground running, scoring
89 in his second innings against India in Brisbane and then making 176 in the
next match in Perth.

When World Series Cricket ground to a halt the returning
players wanted him to carry on, but the Australia Cricket Board voted him out
and he decided to retire again, this time aged 42. He continued in the game this time, however, and was the coach who turned Australia into world beaters in the late 1980s.

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Cycling - Lance
Armstrong

When the American cyclist was diagnosed with testicular
cancer in the autumn of 1996, it seemed  a
tragic waste of life - and a premature end to an incredibly promising career. The
Texan had already racked up a string of wins in one-day classics and Grand Tour
stages, and had even won the UCI World Championship at the age of 21, but with the
disease having spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain he was given just a 40
per cent chance of survival.

Yet the 25-year-old responded outstandingly well to the
pioneering treatment he was given, with the medication he received having been
chosen specifically to limit the chances of lung tissue damage that would have
certainly spelt the end of his career. He went into complete remission, and a
year after finishing chemotherapy he was back in training.

In his comeback season of 1998 he finished fourth in the
Vuelta a España to demonstrate that he was back, and the year after won the
first of seven consecutive Tours de France before retiring in
2005. He made a comeback four years later but was unable to keep up with
Spaniard Alberto Contador, though he still managed to finish third at the age
of 37.

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