No Rain, No Flowers - Laureus World Comeback of the Year Nominees

Laureus World Comeback of the Year Nominees
A tattoo on the arm of one of our Nominees for the Laureus World Comeback of the Year Award tells the story of them all. 
The moment of glory is the one for which the great athletes are most often remembered: crossing the line; scoring the goal; making the shot. But for some, there are other moments that loom just as large in their story: the diagnosis; the injury; the decision to walk away. 

Sometimes those moments mark the beginning of the most remarkable of sports stories – the comebacks. As fans, we are instinctively drawn to these narratives. And at the Laureus World Sports Awards, we recognise them with the Comeback of the Year Award. 

This year, our Nominees include one of the greatest gymnasts of all time who returned to action after a two-year break; a footballer whose dream move was immediately followed by a life-threatening illness; two sporting giants who fought back from the kind of knee damage that has ended careers; and two athletes who refused to let their stories be that of talent derailed and unrealised due to successive injuries. 
Laureus World Comeback of the Year Nominees
Simone Biles’ decision in 2021 to step back from competitive gymnastics – initially after experiencing what gymnasts call the twisties, a loss of spatial awareness during routines, during the Tokyo Olympics – in order to protect her mental health was a global news story. It both changed the landscape of women’s gymnastics by removing its dominant force, and also started a conversation about mental health and elite athletes.

Just short of two years after that decision, Biles’ comeback season reached its peak at the World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium. There, the 26-year-old American won four gold medals, including a record sixth all-around title. She became the first woman to land the Yurchenko double pike in competition, rated as the most difficult vault in women’s gymnastics. If Biles’ retreat from the spotlight was big news, her return to it was a reminder that we have been watching an all-time sporting great.
In the summer of 2022, Sébastien Haller was on top of the world. The Ivory Coast international striker had just had the season of his life for Ajax, finishing as top goalscorer in the Dutch league and with 11 in the Champions League.

Borussia Dortmund identified Haller as the No.9 to replace the outgoing Erling Haaland. This in itself was something of a comeback – Haller’s value had dipped during two-and-a-half-years in East London with West Ham – but a far steeper challenge lay ahead. One month after signing for Dortmund, Haller was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Two surgeries followed, and four cycles of chemotherapy, as he fought the spread of the disease and then slowly recovered his strength. In January 2023, Haller returned to the pitch for Dortmund, and by the end of the season he had scored nine goals in 22 games. By the end of the year, he was bound for the Africa Cup of Nations as the leader of the Ivory Coast attack. 
A.C.L. Three letters that strike fear into the heart of every athlete. A tear to the Anterior Cruciate Ligament means a complete shutdown, most likely surgery and then a long road of rehabilitation – and even then, a complete recovery is never guaranteed. That road must have seemed endless for Jamal Murray, the Denver Nuggets shooting guard who tore the ACL in his left knee in April 2021.

Murray was off the court for 18 months, before returning at the start of the 2022-23 NBA season. By June 2023 he was playing a starring role in Denver’s 4-1 NBA Finals victory over the Miami Heat. Over the five-game series, Murray averaged over 20 points and more than 10 rebounds per game. The only other players to hit that mark? Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and LeBron James. Not bad company to keep. 

For Siya Kolisi, the stakes were high and the clock was ticking. The captain of the Springboks tore his ACL in April 2023 in a match against Munster. Almost every medical precedent pointed to him being unable to lead the Springboks in the defence of their Rugby World Cup title that autumn.

But the night before he was due for surgery in Durban, that would have all but ruled him out of the tournament in France, Kolisi decided to divert to Cape Town and visit the same doctor who treated his team-mate Pieter-Steph du Toit ahead of the 2019 World Cup. As a result of that decision, a successful procedure - a complete ACL reconstruction - and a punishing programme of physical rehabilitation, Kolisi was back on the pitch for the Springboks 119 days after sustaining the injury – and when they edged out New Zealand in a thriller of a final in France, it was captain Kolisi leading South Africa to back-to-back World Cup wins.
They may come from entirely different disciplines, but the stories of Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Markéta Vondroušová are strikingly similar. Until 2023, both of them were undeniable talents, yet injuries meant that neither had achieved everything their sporting ability indicated they might. 

Johnson-Thompson had at least won a global title in heptathlon – at the 2019 World Athletics Championships – before an Achilles tear the following year threatened her career. Her recovery was focused on competing in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, but when she got there, a calf injury sustained during the 200m ended her participation and saw her leave the arena in a wheelchair. Again, Johnson-Thompson fought back, and after Commonwealth gold in Birmingham, she won again at the World Championships in Budapest. 

As Vondroušová watched Wimbledon 2022 from the stands, nursing her latest wrist injury, she would have been forgiven for thinking her time might never come. The Czech had an almost perfect pedigree – a former junior No.1, a Grand Slam finalist as a teenager in 2019 and an Olympic silver medallist in Tokyo. But her graduation to the top table of women’s tennis was sabotaged by a series of injuries and two wrist surgeries, the second of which saw her miss almost the entirety of the 2022 season. All of which meant that she entered Wimbledon 2023 unseeded, before marching through the tournament and defeating Ons Jabeur in the final to become the lowest-ranked winner in the Open Era and break into the top 10 in the world rankings. 

One of Vondroušová’s many tattoos carries a message that is understood by all of our Nominees for the Laureus World Comeback of the Year Award, each of whom understand that the challenges of adversity make these moments all the sweeter: No Rain, No Flowers. 

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