Calling time on their illustrious careers

A sportsperson calling it a day is as much news as his reaching the pinnacle of his career. Here are some of the major retirements in sport in 2016.

India's gold standard... One Olympic, one World and four Commonwealth gold medals later, Abhinav Bindra retired at the end of the Rio Olympics.   -  Sandeep Saxena

End of play... team-mates applaud New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum, as he leaves the ground after his final Test, against Australia, at Hagley Oval, Christchurch, on February 24, 2016.   -  Getty Images

It is often said that a sportsperson dies twice, the first time when he retires. Timing it well is perhaps as difficult as his career itself.

Here is a look at a few of the biggest retirements in sport in 2016.

Abhinav Bindra, India, 34

India’s only individual gold medallist (Beijing 2008), shooter Abhinav Bindra is the standard against which sporting excellence in the country is measured. His career started when he was 15, at the 1998 Commonwealth Games. One Olympic, one World and four Commonwealth gold medals later, he retired at the end of the Rio Olympics. Interestingly, he rated his performance in Rio over everything else he had done. “Out of all my five Olympic appearances, my absolute favourite is Rio because I gave everything to it in terms of preparation,” he said. “A medal is satisfying; it’s a nice ending, a reward, but it’s a mere outcome. The process, the journey is what stays with me; it’s what defines me. The medal is nice but it has no life. The medal I won in Beijing is in a room in my house. Since 2008, I may have looked at it five times. I’m not connected to it.”

Kobe Bryant, U.S., 38

Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant retired as the NBA’s third all-time leading scorer, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. In a career spanning 20 years, Bryant won the NBA title five times, two finals MVPs, one regular season MVP and was an All-Star 18 times. The leading scorer in Lakers’ history, Bryant also led the US Olympic teams to gold medals in 2008 and 2012. His career earnings matched his exploits on court. Bryant, in total, earned $680 million in salary and endorsements — the most for a team athlete in his or her playing career. In fact, Bryant had the highest salary in the NBA for the last six years.

Tim Duncan, U.S., 40

Ever since the San Antonio Spurs selected Tim Duncan as the No. 1 overall pick out of Wake Forest University in the 1997 NBA draft, he spent his entire career with the franchise. During this term, he led the team to five championships (1999, 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2014). Notably, the Spurs have made the playoffs in each year of Duncan’s career and notched up 50-plus games wins in all but one of those seasons. So much so that Spurs decided to retire Duncan’s jersey No. 21. Duncan is a two-time MVP, three-time Finals MVP and 15-time All-Star.

Nico Rosberg, Germany, 31

“Since 25 years in racing, it has been my dream, my one thing to become Formula One World champion. Through the hard work, the pain, the sacrifices, this has been my target. And now I’ve made it. I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right.” This was Nico Rosberg explaining his decision to retire after winning the 2016 Formula One title.

 

After he had lost the 2014 and 2015 world title races to Lewis Hamilton, 2016 was a year in which Rosberg gave his all. He won nine of the season’s 21 races and beat three-time champion Hamilton by five points in a bitterly fought battle. As much as the elation it brought Nico, the son of 1982 World champion Keke Rosberg of Finland, the fight had also taken a toll on his family life, as he himself would admit later.

Shane Watson, Australia, 35

Shane Watson, perhaps the last remaining link to the dominant era of Australian cricket in the early 2000s, retired from international cricket following the ICC World Twenty20 in India. “One morning I woke up in Dharamsala to the beautiful view and I don’t know what it was exactly but I knew now was the right time,” Watson said then. “I’ve really enjoyed my time being back in the Australian squad. But it is quite different, none of the other guys I played with growing up are here anymore. I’ve made the right decision.” Watson is one of only seven men in history to have achieved the double of 10000 runs and 250 wickets in international cricket (all three formats put together). He still holds the Australian record for the highest ODI score — an unbeaten 185 against Bangladesh in Dhaka in 2011.

Michael Phelps, U.S., 31

Michael Phelps’ battle with Chad le Clos in the men’s 200m butterfly was one of the defining moments of the Rio Olympics. It was a race Phelps had lost to Le Clos four years earlier.

In the lead-up to the event, the South African was seen shadowboxing in front of his rival ahead of the semifinal. But after Phelps went on to win the event, he just wagged his index finger and held it up to show who was the number one. “There wasn’t a shot in hell I was losing that tonight,” he said later. “I didn’t know I only won by 0.04 until the awards’ ceremony, but just seeing the number one next to my name just one more time in the 200m fly, I couldn’t have scripted it any better.” After the London Olympics in 2012, Phelps had called it quits only to return. At 31, swimmers are considered to be way past their prime. But Phelps added five gold medals in Rio de Janeiro to end with a career tally of 23 Olympic gold medals, making him arguably the greatest Olympian ever.

Brendon McCullum, New Zealand, 35

One of the most destructive players in the world, Brendon McCullum retired from all forms of cricket after the two-Test series against Australia in February. The World Twenty20 in India might have been the perfect stage to bow out but the romance of finishing his career by leading the Kiwis for one last time against Australia at home swung his decision. The first Test against Australia was his 100th — the first player to play so many consecutive matches from debut. From being in the doldrums when he took over from Ross Taylor in 2013, New Zealand cricket made significant strides under him. Its aggressive brand of cricket captured the imagination of many a fan and with him at the helm, several New Zealand players like Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Kane Williamson blossomed. New Zealand also played its first World Cup final in March, under McCullum.

Yelena Isinbayeva, Russia, 34

A double Olympic and seven-time World champion deserves to go out on a high. But for Yelena Isinbayeva, it was hardly the case. Instead, the pole-vaulter had to announce her retirement after the IAAF banned the Russian track and field contingent from participating in the Rio Olympics after the doping scandal.

It seems like the current World record holder (5.06m outdoors) was collateral damage, for she had never failed a drug test in her life. But her legacy is not to be questioned. She became the first woman to clear the five-metre barrier in 2005 and during the course of her career, set 28 World records. She was named Female Athlete of the Year by the IAAF in 2004, 2005 and 2008, and World Sportswoman of the Year by Laureus in 2007 and 2009.

Other major retirements:

Bradley Marc Wiggins (Britain, 36, cycling), Ana Ivanovic (Serbia, 29, tennis), Alex Rodriguez (United States, 41, baseball), Felipe Massa (Brazil, 35, Formula One) and Jenson Button (Britain, 36, Formula One).