When is it time to hang up the spikes, empty out the locker and cease the unrelenting training that has defined your life for so many years?
These 16 Olympians and several more had their swan song in 2016, with some still at the top of their game, others falling short of their goal and still others embarking on different competitive careers.
Here are their stories:
Kobe Bryant, Basketball
In the midst of his NBA “farewell tour” with the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant also said goodbye to his Olympic career. “I’ve had my moment,” he said in January, declining to try out for the 2016 Olympic team. Actually, Bryant had many shining moments with Team USA. He was one of the leaders of the “Redeem Team,” which went to Beijing in 2008 determined to put the United States back on top following a bronze medal in Athens four years earlier. Bryant, nicknamed “the Black Mamba,” helped Team USA pull away from Spain in the gold-medal game after leading just 91-89 with 8:13 to go. Bryant scored 13 points and had two blocks in the fourth quarter of the 118-107 victory. At the London 2012 Games, Bryant was team captain. He scored 20 points, including six straight 3-pointers in the second half, in the quarterfinals against Australia. Playing Spain again for the gold, Bryant scored 17 points in the 107-100 win. At age 38, Bryant closed out his 20-year professional career on April 13, 2016, scoring 60 points – more than any other player that season. He retired as the No. 3 all-time NBA scorer with 33,643 points (behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 38,387 and Karl Malone with 36,928), won five NBA championships and was a 17-time All-Star. Bryant now hopes to tell other people’s stories through Kobe Studios, an arm of Kobe Inc., his multi-level business.
Tamika Catchings, Basketball
When Tamika Catchings retired in September, she was one of only a few players who have won an Olympic gold medal, world championship gold medal, NCAA title and WNBA championship. “Catch,” 37, was the first American woman to claim a gold medal at both the junior- and senior-level FIBA World Championship. At the Rio 2016 Games, Catchings, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi won their fourth consecutive gold medals, joining Lisa Leslie and Teresa Edwards, who had previously won four golds. After 15 years in the NBA, Catchings made her final professional appearance with the Indiana Fever in the WNBA playoffs on Sept. 22, scoring 13 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. She retired as the WNBA’s all-time leader in rebounds and steals, and was second in career scoring (7,380 points) behind Tina Thompson (7,488). Growing up with a hearing impairment and speech difficulties, Catchings played basketball to avoid teasing from other kids. She was the first man or woman in basketball history to record a quintuple-double (Duncanville High School in 1997). She started the Catch The Stars Foundation to promote fitness, literacy and youth development. In 2015, Catchings was the recipient of the first ESPN Humanitarian award and was the co-recipient of the 2016 National Civil Rights Museum Sports Legacy Award.
Tyler Clary, Swimming
Still dripping wet after finishing third in the 200-meter backstroke at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Swimming, Tyler Clary promptly retired. “That’s it,” said Clary, who was the defending Olympic champion in the event. “I don’t see any reason to continue. It’s really not a bad thing.” Clary, 27, finished .56 seconds behind the second-place finisher. Earlier in the meet, he also placed one spot shy of an Olympic berth on the 4x200-meter freestyle team. Besides his Olympic gold medal at the London 2012 Games, Clary won 15 other medals in major international competition including the world championships (long course and short course), the Pan Pacific Championships and the Pan American Games in events ranging from the 200 back and 200 butterfly to the 200-meter individual medley, 400 IM and the 4x200-meter freestyle. He was fifth in the 200 fly at the London Games. "I'm looking forward to turning a page in the book of my life and starting a new chapter," Clary said. "I'm going to get to do a lot of things that I've been wanting to do." That includes a different kind of racing for Clary, who is passionate about becoming a professional race car driver. He attended the Skip Barber Open Wheel Racing School in 2012, the Indycar Academy and has tested and raced for Toyota, Stronghold Motorsports and SR2 Motorsports. According to his website, he “wants a Sprint Cup Championship.”
Christa Dietzen, Volleyball
The U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team bid adieu to its longtime leader with one final victory. Christa Dietzen was captain of the Team USA squad that won the bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, defeating the Netherlands following a shocking semifinal loss to Serbia. Dietzen and her teammates, who came in ranked No. 1, returned to the podium four years after capturing the silver medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games. The middle blocker also was captain of the gold-medal-winning 2015 FIVB World Grand Prix team and was named second-best middle blocker of the final round. She captained the 2014 team to the FIVB world championship, joining the squad after missing most of the 2014 season to produce 3.00 points per set with a .511 hitting efficiency. In addition, Dietzen helped the U.S. win the gold medal at the 2011 and 2011 FIVB Grand Prix. While the 6-foot-2 Dietzen was growing up, her grandmother made her pants because she couldn’t find any that were long enough. Dietzen led Penn State to back-to back NCAA Championships before becoming a mainstay on the U.S. national team roster in 2009. Dietzen, 30, and her husband Derek plan to start a family. She also says on her website that her post-retirement agenda is “rollerblading, mountain biking, snowboarding and a ½ Ironman while I’m at it.”
Maya DiRado, Swimming
With a job lined up following her graduation from Stanford and a world championships silver medal in hand, Maya DiRado was ready to trade her bathing suit for a business suit. But her coach convinced her to train for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, putting off her job as a business analyst at McKinsey & Co. That proved to be a sound decision. At her first and last Olympic Games, DiRado won four medals – one of each kind in individual events, plus a gold in the 4x200-meter freestyle. Her last race, the 200-meter backstroke, was one of the most thrilling and surprising of the Games. DiRado overtook the “Iron Lady,” Katinka Hosszu of Hungary, on the final stroke to win by six-hundredths of a second. Hosszu led by nearly a body length going into the final 50 meters. DiRado said when she saw a video of the race during an appearance at an elementary school, “If I’d known at the time that I was that far behind, I might not have won, but in my mind I could kind of delude myself into thinking, ‘I’m catching up! I’m almost there!’” DiRado, 23, also won a silver in the 400 IM and a bronze in the 200 IM. “People that I don’t know and who don’t know me are like, ‘Why would you stop?’” she said, referring to a bid for 2020. “But no, this is the perfect way to go out.”
Troy Dumais, Diving
Troy Dumais got an ovation he’ll never forget before the last dive of his career, even though both he and the crowd knew a record fifth Olympic team was not in the cards. Dumais raised his arm to acknowledge the clapping and cheering at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Diving, then his eyes teared up. “What a way to go out, right?” he told the Indianapolis Star. “One of the most amazing experiences of my life.” Known as “Grandfather” to the younger divers, Dumais, 36, placed fourth in the individual 3-meter event, two spots shy of history. Dumais made his first national team at age 16. He placed sixth individually at the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games and was fifth in 2012. Dumais, one of five diving siblings, won his lone Olympic medal in London, a bronze in 3-meter synchro with Kristian Ipsen. Insisting that bronze was “not the right color,” Dumais, who also won four silver medals and a bronze at the world championships, brushed aside questions about retirement. After qualifying for 20 straight national teams going back to 1996 – with 38 national titles – Dumais missed the 2015 world team by one spot. “I don’t want to live in regret,” Dumais said. “I can always work behind a desk. I can always coach, but I’m not always going to be able to dive. I want to finish knowing that I gave it everything that I had; there’s nothing left.” And so he did.
Kayla Harrison, Judo
Kayla Harrison knew her Olympic career was over as soon as she won her final match at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. “I’m happy,” she said. “I’m retired – as two-time Olympic champion. That’s it.” Ranked No. 1 in the latest world rankings, Harrison defeated No. 2 Audrey Tcheumeo of France by ippon in the women’s -78 kg. gold-medal bout. It was the fourth straight bout she won by ippon – which is like a knockout in boxing. Harrison is the first U.S. judoka to win back-to-back Olympic medals of any kind and just the second American to win two Olympic medals in judo (joining coach Jimmy Pedro, who won two bronzes). Harrison came back from reconstructive knee surgery in 2013. “It’s been probably the longest four years of my life,” she said. “I fought with a separated shoulder, fought with a fever, fought with knee pain, fought with hand pain. … The misery and the pain — I had to have done it for something. It had to be worth it.” Harrison used her platform to start the Fearless Foundation, which sheds light on child sexual abuse and helps survivors through education and sport. Her company, KHE, Inc., will assume control of organizing and operating the U.S. national championships for five years beginning in 2018. And although she has retired from Olympic competition, her fighting days are not over. Harrison has signed a contract to compete in mixed martial arts in the World Series of Fighting.
Reese Hoffa, Track and Field
With the retirement of Reese Hoffa, track and field will miss one of its biggest personalities. He wore a mask as the “Unknown Shot Putter,” danced with mascots and could juggle shot puts, as well as torches. Hoffa learned to solve a Rubik’s Cube in under 40 seconds just because people told him he couldn’t do it. And when people told him that he’d never make it as a 5-foot-11 shot putter, Hoffa proved them wrong, too. He was a three-time Olympian from 2004 to 2012, winning the bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games. However, he told The Augusta Chronicle that the medal was stolen in 2014 out of his truck while he attended an Atlanta Falcons game following a fundraiser in Alabama. “It was hard to have it taken,” he told the Chronicle, “but it does not take away from the accomplishment.” Hoffa was also 2012 Diamond League champion, world outdoor champion in 2007, world indoor champion in 2006 and world indoor silver medalist in 2004 and 2008. He won the gold medal at the 2003 Pan American Games. Seeking one final hurrah in 2016, Hoffa qualified for his 18th consecutive finals at the outdoor nationals. However, he wound up fifth and young rivals Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs went on to win the gold and silver in Rio. Hoffa, 39, hopes to start a family with his wife Renata and works with kids at his Hoffa Throws Academy.
McKayla Maroney, Gymnastics
McKayla Maroney is not impressed with news stories saying she has retired. She might even make a face at the mentions. You know the face. At the London 2012 Olympic Games, a photo of Maroney on the podium after earning silver on vault went viral, starting the “McKayla Maroney is not impressed” meme. “I don’t want anybody to think that McKayla is retiring,” said Maroney, 21, who also won a team gold medal as a member of the Fierce Five in London. “I don’t even want people to use that word.” She said she got into gymnastics when she was 18 months old and would always be a part of it. “I’m never leaving the sport,” she said. “The only difference is I’m not competing any more.” Maroney won the vault and floor exercise at the 2013 U.S. championships, then became the first U.S. female gymnast to defend a vault world title at the 2013 world championships. However, she underwent knee surgery in early 2014, missing the rest of the season, and struggles with other health issues including adrenal fatigue kept her from competing in the 2015 season. She announced her retirement from competition in February 2016. Maroney made her acting debut on the television program “Hart of Dixie” and has also appeared on “Bones” and “Superstore.”
Heather O'Reilly, Soccer
Having spent nearly half her life in a U.S. soccer uniform, Heather O’Reilly said the decision to retire from international competition on Sept. 15, 2016, was “incredibly hard and emotional.” But O’Reilly, 31, who spent 15 years with the U.S. Women’s National Team, said, “It just feels like the right time” and cited her “incredibly complete career” that made her one of the most successful players in U.S. history. She won three Olympic gold medals, played in 231 games (caps), scored 47 goals, had 55 assists, and captured both the 2015 Women’s World Cup title and the 2002 under-19 World Cup title. The midfielder will continue to play club soccer. HAO, as she is known to her fans and teammates (her middle name is Ann), was just 17 when she joined the USWNT and played more than 13,300 minutes in a U.S. uniform. After winning gold medals in 2004, 2008 and 2012, O’Reilly did not make the 18-woman roster for Rio, but was an alternate who traveled to the Games and trained with the team. “Whatever I need to do to help the U.S. win, I will do with my whole heart,” O’Reilly wrote in an Instagram post. She was team captain in her final national team appearance, tallying a goal and an assist in the 9-0 victory over Thailand. O’Reilly departed the field to a standing ovation in the 89th minute, leaving only 10 U.S. players on the field.
Michael Phelps, Swimming
The greatest Olympian of all time retired this year. Again. Michael Phelps called it quits the first time following the London 2012 Olympic Games with a record 22 medals, including 18 golds. After 18 months, he was back in training, determined to regain the joy that eluded him prior to London. Phelps went to Rio, his fifth straight Olympic Games, with his new wife Nicole (they had secretly married earlier in the summer), his baby son Boomer and with a new role as a team captain. Though now 31 years old, Phelps was still a force to be reckoned with, winning six more medals to bring his grand total to 28 overall (including 23 golds). He also became a popular meme with his angry “Phelps face” in the ready room. Phelps was only 15 when he competed in his first Games in 2000, placing fifth in the 200-meter butterfly. He won eight medals in Athens (six golds and two bronzes), a record eight gold medals in Beijing, breaking Mark Spitz’s mark by a fingertip (his margin of victory in the 100 fly), then added four golds and two silvers in London. In Rio, Phelps won the 200 IM a record fourth time. He now plans to sharpen his entrepreneurial skills. However, Ryan Lochte thinks his longtime rival is not finished. He “guaranteed” that Phelps would be back, pointing out that he was right before when he said Phelps wasn’t done.
Reid Priddy, Volleyball
At age 38, Reid Priddy was the oldest U.S. men’s volleyball player in Rio and he really had to dig deep to get there. Priddy suffered a torn ACL in his right knee in May 2014 and doctors fixed it using a ligament from his left knee. That meant he had to rehabilitate both legs. In Rio, Priddy played sparingly before the bronze-medal match, then came off the bench to play a key role in Team USA’s five-set victory over defending champion Russia. Priddy started 15-of-20 hitting and scored 18 points. Rio marked Priddy’s fourth straight Olympic Games (he was almost a five-time Olympian, having served as an alternate in 2000). By the Athens 2004 Games, the outside hitter was a starter for Team USA, which placed fourth. Priddy helped the United States claim the gold medal in Beijing, where he was fourth among all scorers with 112 points on 93 kills. He was a starter again in London en route to Team USA’s fifth-place finish. Priddy has competed professionally in Greece, Russia, Turkey and Italy and helped start the internet radio show “The NET Live.” Although he has retired from indoor volleyball, Priddy plans to compete on the beach professional circuit in 2017. He says on his website that he is hoping to “defy the odds once more” and represent the U.S. “in one more Olympic Games in 2020 in Tokyo on the sand.”
Sanya Richards-Ross, Track and Field
Her last lap did not go the way Sanya Richards-Ross had hoped. In the first round of the women’s 400-meter at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field, Richards-Ross, the reigning Olympic champion and American-record holder, fell behind early. Hampered by a hamstring strain, she stopped just after the 200-meter mark. Wearing her signature long sleeves, Richards-Ross, 31, then waved to the crowd as she walked to the finish line. Plagued by injuries the last few years, Richards-Ross ended her career with three straight gold medals in the 4x400-meter (2004, 2008 and 2012) – including a memorable finish in Beijing when she chased down Russia for the victory – and an individual gold medal in the 400-meter in 2012. She also won the bronze in the 400 in 2008. Richards-Ross was the 2009 world outdoor champion, 2012 world indoor champion and won four world titles on the the 4x400 team. She was ranked No. 1 in the world from 2005-09 and in 2012 and was a two-time IAAF World Athlete of the Year (2006, 2009). Richards-Ross said she hoped people would “remember just how persistent I was. I definitely had a lot of obstacles in my career, with my illness and injuries, but I just never gave up. I always fought hard and gave my best every time I stepped on the track.”
Todd Rogers, Beach Volleyball
Known as “The Professor” because of the way he coached himself and his partners, Todd Rogers is credited with changing the game of beach volleyball. Rogers, 43, played his last professional match on July 16, 2016, in the Manhattan Beach Open, closing out a career that included more than 80 tournament victories, two Olympic appearances and a gold medal with Phil Dalhausser in 2008. Rogers, the 1997 AVP Rookie of the year, was named the AVP’s Most Valuable Player in 2007 and Best Defensive Player from 2004-2008. Rogers, who is 6-foot-2, recognized the potential in the 6-9 Dalhausser and they played together for seven years, becoming one of the most successful duos in history. Besides their Olympic gold medal, they won a FIVB world championship in 2007, a FIVB World Tour championship, nine FIVB World Tour Grand Slam events, 23 FIVB tournament titles, four AVP Tour Championships and 43 AVP tournament titles. Rogers and Dalhausser set the FIVB World Tour record of consecutive match wins with 40. At the London 2012 Olympic Games, they were hampered by an injury to Dalhausser and could not defend their gold medal. Following the Games, they split up because Rogers wanted to cut back on his international schedule. (Dalhausser eventually went to Rio with partner Nick Lucena, placing fifth.) In February, Rogers was hired as the head beach volleyball coach at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California.
Kyla Ross, Gymnastics
The Olympic world’s loss was the collegiate world’s gain. Kyla Ross, the youngest member of the Fierce Five which struck gold at the London 2012 Olympic Games, announced her retirement from elite gymnastics competition in February. However, she planned to continue the sport at the collegiate level at UCLA. Ross, who was just 15 when she competed in London, won five medals at the 2013 and 2014 world championships – including team gold and all-around bronze in 2014 – while some of her Olympic teammates took time off. Ross placed second, behind Simone Biles, in the all-around at the U.S. championships in 2013 and 2014 and won two golds on balance beam and one on uneven bars. She deferred her entry to UCLA for a year, hoping to make it to Rio, but struggled with a growth spurt of 4 ½ inches. While not feeling her best, Ross realized that her heart wasn’t in it, either. After the first U.S. training camp in January, she decided to take herself out of contention for the Olympic Games. While Ross said it would take time to “get used to being known as an elite gymnast whose career is over,” she was excited to “show a different side of me,” in collegiate gymnastics, which is judged according to a different scale. She will begin competing in January. At UCLA, Ross, 20, is a bioengineering major and hopes to work in the industry of medical devices or pharmaceuticals.
Four-time Olympian Angelo Taylor was a threat running one lap around the track with hurdles or without them. He was a two-time Olympic champion in the 400-meter hurdles (2000 and 2008) and three-time U.S. champion in that event while also winning the 2007 world championships bronze medal and two outdoor national titles in the 400-meter. Taylor was a frequent member of Team USA 4x400-meter teams. He won Olympic gold medals in 2000 and 2008 (the Sydney medal was later stripped because of a teammate’s doping violation) and ran anchor for the silver medal in 2012 in London. Taylor was the favorite going into the 2000 Sydney Games despite being only 21 years old. Distraught when he drew Lane 1 in the final, the tightest turn, Taylor was encouraged by teammate Terrence Trammell. Taylor caught Hadi Somayli of Saudi Arabia six meters from the line, winning by .03 seconds in the closest 400-meter hurdles finish in Olympic history. Taylor was eliminated in the semifinals in 2004 and was only the third qualifier for the 2008 team. But he emerged from the pack in Beijing to lead a U.S. sweep, running a career-best time of 47.25 seconds to repeat as gold medalist. In London, he finished fifth. Taylor, who will turn 38 on Dec. 29, made a bid for his fifth Olympic team, but raced sparingly in 2016 and did not qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field in either of his events.
These Olympians and Paralympians also retired in 2016…
Alpine Skiing: Marco Sullivan
Basketball: Ray Allen, Carmelo Anthony (international play only), Swin Cash, Tim Duncan
Curling: Erika Brown, Nicole Joraanstad, Natalie Nicholson
Cycling: Mara Abbott
Field Hockey: Lauren Crandall, Rachel Dawson
Paralympic Cycling: Greta Neimanas
Paralympic Swimming: Michael DeMarco, Anna Eames, Anna Johannes
Speedskating: Jilleanne Rookard
Track and Field: Alfred Kruger, Dwight Phillips, Amanda Smock, Matthew Tegenkamp, Morgan Uceny, Kellie Wells, Lauryn Williams (also bobsled), Jason Young
Volleyball: Tamari Miyashiro, Courtney Thompson
Wrestling: Spenser Mango