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They think it’s all over: 6 of the most surprising retirements in sport

From Magic Johnson to Conor Mortimer, we look at those who quit the sport they loved unexpectedly.

THE TENNIS WORLD was shocked this week when news broke that 28-year old Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli would be retiring, just a month after winning the first grand slam of her career.

Ranked seventh in the world, the Fenchwoman blamed persistent injuries on her decision to step away from the sport that has dominated her life.

It did, however, remind us of those other times when athletes have called it a day unexpectedly.

Magic Johnson


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Johnson announced his retirement, and his recent positive HIV test, on November 7, 1991, just before the start of that year’s NBA season.

Johnson, 31 at the time, had won five NBA titles, been the League’s MVP three times and made the All-Star team on no fewer than 12 occasions.

While he made brief return in 1996, his initial retirement was possibly the most shocking the world of sports has ever seen.

Conor Mortimer


Image: INPHO/James Crombie

Having lost two All-Ireland finals with Mayo, Mortimer unexpectedly quit the county panel the week of the 2012 Connacht football final after losing his place in the starting XV.

Mayo went on to lose the 2012 All-Ireland final to Donegal but who knows how that game would have played out had Mortimer stayed with the panel.

Michael Jordan


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Fresh off the back of his third straight NBA championship, Michael Jordan did what anyone in his situation would do… and retired to play baseball.

Jordan did have his reasons, his father’s murder being foremost. Jordan’s father had wanted Michael to be a baseball player and so the 30-year old could see no better way to honour his memory than to give that sport a shot.

He would return to basketball just two years later and continue almost exactly where he left off.

Fabrice Muamba


Image: Joe Giddens/EMPICS Sport

On St Patrick’s Day, 2012, Fabrice Muamba had a cardiac arrest and collapsed on the pitch during Bolton’s FA Cup quarter final with Spurs at White Hart Lane.

Though the England U-21 international’s life was saved, he was forced to retire from football that August on the back of advice from his medical team, aged just 24.

Alex Ferguson


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It seems strange to class a 71-year old calling it a day as a shock retirement but Ferguson caught most unawares when he announced last season would be his last as Manchester United manager.

The Scot won 38 trophies with United, including two Champions Leagues and 13 Premier League titles before, on May 8 last year, shocking the United supporters and the world of football by saying he was ending his career at the end of that season.

In an age when football clubs leak information to the press constantly, the fact Ferguson’s retirement plans were kept under wraps are what made them so shocking.

Barry Sanders


Image: John Swart/AP/Press Association Images

Sanders makes the list because the Detroit running back still seemed to have plenty in the tank when he quit the NFL in 1998.

His reason for retiring was simple though. Despite making the Pro Bowl every year for a decade, the Detroit Lions team he played for were terrible and, rather than seek a trade, he stepped away from a game he dominated.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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