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An illustrious sports career... and fairy-tale finish

Last updated on: March 19, 2013 08:31 IST

An illustrious career...and a fairy-tale finish as well

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Bikash Mohapatra

A memorable career and a perfect swansong is something that highlights the career of a successful sportsperson.

While many well-known names have achieved the former, it is the latter that has eluded many, Ricky Ponting's last Test ending in defeat being a case in point.

Bikash Mohapatra takes a look at a few sportspersons whose career had a fairy-tale finish. Before proceeding, though, it is imperative to clarify that the selection isn't all-inclusive.

Tine Baun (Denmark)

The reason why we are compiling this list, Tine Baun is a perfect example of the fact that success has got nothing to do with age.

A late starter, the Dane won a clutch of Super Series events and was the European champion on two occasions.

At 33, and well past her prime, Baun almost skipped the All-England Championships this year. However, having a 'last adventure' at a place that gave her a first major title (in 2008) made her compete.

And a 21-14, 16-21, 21-10 win in the final over Thai Intanon Ratchanok, at 18 the tournament's youngest finalist, made Baun the oldest champion ever at the National Indoor Arena, Birmingham.

It was the Danish shuttler's third All England title, from four final appearances, and brought down curtains on what was an illustrious career.


Image: Tine Baun
Photographs: Ben Hoskins/Getty Images
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Imran Khan (Pakistan)

All will agree that Imran Khan is one of the greatest captain's cricket has ever seen.

Having taken over the captaincy of Pakistan from Javed Miandad in 1982, Imran guided his team to many firsts, including away series wins in both India and England.

However, it was the biggest prize in the sport, the World Cup, that eluded him for more than a decade, the semi-final exit at the hands of Australia in 1987, when Pakistan co-hosted the event, being the most disappointing.

In fact, Imran came back from retirement to lead Pakistan one last time, in the 1992 World Cup. It proved to be a great decision.

At 39, he led Pakistan to their first world title, with a win over England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, thereby marking his biggest achievement as captain.

It was sheer irony that Imran took the last English wicket to fall in the final, having Richard Illingworth caught by Ramiz Raja.


Image: Imran Khan
Photographs: Adrian Murrell/Getty Images
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Glenn McGrath (Australia)

During the course of his career Glenn McGrath became synonymous with World Cup glory, having been part of the winning squad on three occasions, Australia having reached the final on the fourth (1996).

It was the 2007 edition of the quadrennial event, held in the Caribbean, that proved to be his swansong, a perfect one at that.

McGrath finished the tournament as the top wicket-taker with 26 scalps to his credit. It took his overall tally to 71 (in 39 matches), a record for the most wickets by a bowler in the World Cup.

Besides, he was named player of the tournament even as Australia bested Sri Lanka in the final.

Could there have been a better ending?


Image: Glenn McGrath
Photographs: Mark Nolan/Getty Images
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Pete Sampras (USA)

It was a tournament that ensured him his first tryst with glory. One that ensured him a perfect swansong as well.

Pete Sampras shared a unique relationship with the US Open, a tournament he won on five occasions – the most in the Open Era (along with Jimmy Connors and Roger Federer).

The same can also be said about his rivalry with compatriot Andre Agassi, whom he beat in three of those five finals.

Sampras had bested Agassi in the 1990 final, to win his first major title, and again in 1995.

However, it was the 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 result in the 2002 edition that was arguably the sweetest.

Sampras hadn't won a title, let alone a major, since beating Pat Rafter for a record seventh Wimbledon title in 2000. And Agassi was enjoying a purple patch.

So satisfied was Sampras with the win, having lost in the final in the two previous years, that he decided not to defend his title, preferring to call it quits on a winning note.


Image: Pete Sampras
Photographs: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
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Michael Johnson (USA)

One of the legends in track and field history, Michael Johnson won four Olympic gold medals and eight in the World Championships in an illustrious career.

At the 1996 Atlanta Games, Johnson became the only male athlete in history to win both the 200 metres and 400 metres events at the same Olympics.

The American still holds the world and Olympic records in the 400 metres. And it is that event that ensured Johnson's career a perfect end, the athlete calling it quits soon after he won the gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

His triumph Down Under also made Johnson the only man to successfully defend his Olympic title in the 400 metres.


Image: Michael Johnson
Photographs: Mike Powell/Allsport
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Michael Phelps (USA)

The most decorated Olympian ever, Michael Phelps announced well in advance that the London Olympics would be his last.

The 27-year-old went on to ensure that the event would be an affair to remember by winning four gold and two silver medals,

Phelps was the most successful swimmer in London, the third successive time that he had earned himself the honour in the Olympics.

His haul also took his medal tally to 22, the most by an athlete in Olympics -- besting gymnast Larissa Latynina's longstanding record.

Phelps also bolstered his all-time record for Olympic gold medals (with 18), the American having won a record eight gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Games -- the most by an athlete in a single Olympics.

Phelps, who also won six gold medals in the 2004 Athens Games, also holds the record for most individual gold medals at the quadrennial event (with 11).

We would have gone further regarding his many achievements had it not been for a paucity of space, and time.


Image: Michael Phelps
Photographs: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
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Krisztina Egerszegi (Hungary)

Another one from the pool, Krisztina Egerszegi is one of the most successful swimmers in the modern Olympics.

After winning gold medals in both Seoul (1988) and Barcelona (1992), the Hungarian announced that she would retire after the 1994 World Championships. However, disappointing results in the same made her reconsider her decision.

It proved to be a favourable one. For at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, while winning the 200 m backstroke she became only the second swimmer in Olympic history (after Australian Dawn Fraser) to win gold for the same event at three successive Games. (Michael Phelps has since joined the duo)

It was Egerszegi's fifth gold medal, in her third Olympics, and provided her with a perfect retirement benefit.


Image: Krisztina Egerszegi
Photographs: Al Bello/Getty Images
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