Wednesday, 7 December 2016

1980s sporting retirements

Nico Rosberg recently made the shock decision to retire from Formula One after winning the World Championship title. So this week I am taking a look back at some sporting retirements of the 1980s, including an England rugby union captain forced to quit the sport, a triple blow for the Australian cricket team, and a future England manager saying his goodbyes before leaving the scene Anneka Rice style.

1989: Florence Griffith-Joyner

An athlete who divided opinion, the sudden rise of Florence Griffith-Joyner was capped at the Seoul Olympics when she won three golds in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay. Having set a new world record mark for the 100m at the US Olympic Trial in Indianapolis, Griffith-Joyner breezed past Evelyn Ashford to win the Olympic final, before breaking the world record twice on her way to the 200m gold. Her glamorous style, including those famous bodysuits and fingernails, combined to make Griffith-Joyner a very marketable runner, and after a third gold in the sprint relay, she appeared to have the world at her feet.

Naturally it is hard to discuss Griffith-Joyner without referring to the drug-related allegations made against her after her dramatic improvement. Griffith-Joyner put her development down to a new diet and training regime employed after her return to athletics in 1986; others were not so convinced by the sudden progression of her times. Either way, Griffith-Joyner never failed a drugs test, but the fact that she announced her retirement just as random out of competition drug testing was about to begin added fuel to the fire of those who believed her achievements were tarnished.

Aged just 29, Flo Jo had been in demand since the Olympics, but her retirement in February 1989 was still surprising. "It was a hard decision for me to make because I've always loved the sport," Griffith-Joyner revealed. "But so much is happening already that it was impossible for me to concentrate on running. I still believe there are things that I could accomplish, but I'm happy with my career. Now that I'm on a different track, I want to give that my best."

Retiring to pursue business interests, including promoting a Flo-Jo doll, designing athletics clothing, and writing children's books, inevitably Flo-Jo did attempt a comeback in the 1990s. Targeting the 400m at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, injuries and epileptic seizures meant she never got close to the starting blocks. Sadly Griffith-Joyner passed away in 1998, suffering asphyxiation after a seizure in her sleep, almost ten years to the day that she had claimed her first Olympic gold.

Flo-Jo remained a controversial figure even after her death. Despite the coroner's office stating that Griffith-Joyner's body could not be tested for steroid usage, husband Al Joyner declared that his wife had "passed the final, ultimate drug test." Her two sprint world records still stand to this day, and the debate will undoubtedly rage on about the career of Flo-Jo.

1984: Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh, and Dennis Lillee

A trio of retirements that had a huge impact on the Australian Test team in the mid-80s. When Greg Chappell and Dennis Lillee announced that the fifth Test against Pakistan in January 1984 would be their last, losing two vital components of the national team was bad enough. But when wicketkeeper Rod Marsh then followed suit after the World Series Cup against Pakistan and the West Indies, another part of the spine had been removed from Australia's line-up.

The three did sign out in style. Chappell scored 182, claiming the man of the match award, to bookend his Test career neatly with a century in his first and last match. Lillee took the last four Pakistani wickets to fall, ending with match figures of 8/153, as Australia won the series 2-0. And Marsh took six catches, taking his Test career tally to 355 - incidentally the same number of dismissals as Lillee - with the 'c Marsh b Lillee' entry inscribed on the scorecard for a record 95th time.

When a team loses a batch of world class players, it rarely ends well. Admittedly Australia did have to contend with back-to-back series' against the mighty West Indies, but defeats in 1985 to England and New Zealand highlighted that Australian cricket had suffered immensely after the departures of Chappell, Marsh and Lillee. Chuck in the extra ingredient of rebel tours to South Africa, and it is not hard to see why Allan Border had such a hard time in turning around the fortunes of the Australian Test team.

As an Englishman, it is hard to have too much sympathy for this tale of Australian woe, however. The 1987 World Cup and 1989 Ashes series marked the beginning of something special in Australian cricket, before the retirements of Warne, McGrath, Langer, Hayden, and Gilchrist ushered in a period of relative decline. The Australian cricket authorities had obviously failed to learn from the harsh lessons experienced in the 1980s.

1984: Kevin Keegan

"This was an easy decision for me to make because I knew it was the right decision," Newcastle star Kevin Keegan declared on announcing his retirement on February 13, 1984. "I would be lying if I said I was the same player now as I was when with Hamburg and at my peak." That much was true, yet Keegan had become such a hero on Tyneside, that this news would have been hard to take for Newcastle fans.

Keegan promised to do his best to get Newcastle back to the top flight in his last few months, and he was good to his word, even managing to score in the final competitive match of his career against Brighton. As Keegan wheeled away in delight, in front of thousands of Geordies celebrating in glorious sunshine, it looked like the perfect moment to go out on. But Keegan would have one final chance to say auf wiedersehen, pet.

Not many athletes leave their sport on their own terms, and even fewer get to wave goodbye before hopping into a helicopter and disappearing off into the night sky. But that is exactly what wor Kevin did on May 17, 1984. After a friendly against Liverpool at in front of 36,722 at St James' Park, Kev said a sad farewell after a lap of honour, as a 13-year-old ball boy called Alan Shearer looked on in awe at his future boss.

And then dressed in his kit, Keegan boarded a helicopter and flew off over the horizon. Of course it wouldn't be the end of his love affair with Newcastle, and Keegan would manage the club in two different spells, before exiting dramatically both times. Not as spectacular as his 1984 departure, though.

1982: Bill Beaumont

A retirement that shocked rugby players and fans alike. When Bill Beaumont sustained a head injury in the 1982 County Championship final between Lancashire and North Midlands, it was the third serious injury he had suffered in the space of a year. Previously blows to the neck had led to Beaumont being concussed against Scotland in the 1981 Five Nations, and in a match in Beziers, and when he left the County final with blurred vision and pins and needles in one arm, a trip to the neurologist was required.

Just a few weeks short of his 30th birthday, Beaumont was given the news that he didn't want to hear. "I was told I could be paralysed if I took another knock on the head," Beaumont informed the press. "I'd be foolish to risk my life." A Lions captain and the man who had led England on 21 occasions, helping his country to win the Grand Slam just two years earlier, was now facing life without rugby.

The tributes naturally flooded in. "I feel quite emotional," stated Lancashire president John Burgess. "Bill Beaumont as a man and a player, in that order, is the best thing to have happened to rugby in my county and England for as long as I can remember." Andy Irvine described Beaumont as the best captain he had ever played under, with England scrum half Steve Smith calling Beaumont "probably the last of the nice guys".

Indeed we would all discover that Beaumont was a kind-natured fellow on A Question of Sport throughout the 1980s, and unsurprisingly he landed regular rugby related work on the BBC. But with England using ten captains in the six years after his retirement, the hole he left in the national team was vast.

1983: Bjorn Borg

The youngest person in this list to call it a day, Bjorn Borg had started to cut back on his tournament tennis since his Wimbledon and US Open final losses to John McEnroe in 1981. Aged just 26, the Swede had simply grown tired of the constant physical and emotional pressures involved in being a tennis professional, and in January 1983, he informed everyone of his intention to quit the sport after a few exhibition matches and one final tournament in Monte Carlo.

"I'll miss all the people, the atmosphere and the cheering, but I'm glad that, when I wake up in the morning, I know I won't have to go out and practice for four or five hours," Borg said after losing in Monte Carlo to Henri Leconte. "It all had to end sometime. I have been waiting for this moment to tell myself I can concentrate on something other than tennis."

Borg played in Stuttgart in July 1984, and would make a doomed comeback in the 1990s, initially attempting to take on the leading world tennis stars using a wooden racket. Alas, as most suspected, Borg's time had long passed, but his tale of burnout in the 1980s would be an early example of the demanding nature of tennis on the international circuit.

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