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Retirements, Injuries – Oh My! These Team USA Athletes Are Looking To Make Epic Olympic Comebacks

By Karen Price | Feb. 09, 2017, 3:59 p.m. (ET)

John Daly competes in men's skeleton at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Sliding Center Sanki on Feb. 15, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

When an athlete has trained his or her whole life for what often comes down to seconds or minutes in the Olympic Games and succeeds, that joy is evident. 

And when something goes wrong and all that training ends without the podium and a medal, the devastation is often also evident. 

The latter was the case for skeleton racer John Daly in 2014 in Sochi, when his sled popped out of the starting groove on his fourth and final run and he went from being in position to win a bronze medal to 15th place. He crossed the finish line with his head in his hands. 

After that, Daly stepped away from sliding.

His three-year retirement ended, however, when he announced in November that he was ready to make his comeback. 

“I started to get a tiny smolder of a flame back, I started to miss it a little,” he said.

After competing at seven races and winning six medals in January, Daly is now ranked 19th in the world rankings and qualified for a spot on the world championships team.

Daly is hardly the only Team USA athlete coming back from retirement, injuries or some other struggle to try to make the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team for PyeongChang, South Korea.

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Katherine Reutter retired from short track speedskating in 2013 when her body just couldn’t take it anymore. Just 24, she was suffering from chronic back pain and had already undergone several hip surgeries. Yet in May 2016, Reutter launched her comeback, and in the fall she earned a place on the U.S. world cup team for the first time in five years. The two-time Olympic medalist in 2010 is now eyeing her second Winter Games, having already made three world cup finals, exceeding her own expectations.

K.C. Boutiette competes in the men's 5,000-meter at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games at the Oval Lingotto on Feb. 11, 2016 in Torino, Italy.

Long track speedskater K.C. Boutiette had an even longer layoff. He was 35 years old when he competed in the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, his fourth Games since making his Olympic debut in Lillehammer in 1994. He didn’t skate in an international race again until 2015. Yet in December 2016, at the age of 46, he became the oldest skater to win a world cup medal when he won silver in the men’s mass start. Boutiette is with the U.S. team competing at the ISU World Single Distances Championships this week and will attempt to return to the Games for a fifth time competing in the mass start, which makes its Olympic debut in 2018. 

Fellow long track speedskater Brittany Bowe is aiming for a comeback too, but her efforts are only just beginning. Last season was about as successful as it gets for Bowe, who was the overall world cup champion as well as the leader in both the 1,000- and 1,500-meter. The 2014 Olympian’s season was cut short recently, however, as she announced she would not compete in the World Single Distances Championships and would take the rest of the year off to recover. Bowe suffered a concussion during training in July and had just returned to competition in December. 

Several A-list alpine skiers have their sights set on PyeongChang. Lindsey Vonn, the 2010 Olympic downhill champ, is one of the most accomplished skiers of all time, but she missed the 2014 Games with injury, and has continued to battle with injuries since. Vonn fractured her left knee in a crash in February 2016, and then she broke her right arm in a training crash in November. She called it the hardest recovery of her career, but 10 weeks later in mid-January she returned and notched her 77th world cup victory in just her second race back. She failed to finish the super-G at the world championships earlier this week and reported problems with her right hand, but was continuing with training runs for Sunday’s downhill. 

Defending Olympic giant slalom champion Ted Ligety, a three-time Olympian, was aiming for his fourth consecutive giant slalom world title this year, but his body had other plans. After dealing with nerve pain down his left leg, Ligety underwent season-ending back surgery in mid-January. The 32-year-old had competed in just three world cup events all season when he made the decision to have the operation after other therapies failed to help. The previous season ended early for Ligety as well after he tore his ACL.

Julia Mancuso celebrates during the flower ceremony for the women's super combined at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Rosa Khutor Alpine Center on Feb. 10, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

Fellow alpine skier Julia Mancuso is still working to return to skiing for the first time in almost two years. She missed the 2015-16 season after undergoing hip surgery but headed to the world championships having taken downhill training runs but not raced since March 2015. Still, Mancuso was named to the world championship roster for the eighth time as she continues to work her way back to form that she hopes will lead her to PyeongChang for her fifth Olympic Games. 

Less is certain for six-time Olympic medalist Bode Miller. He hasn’t raced since February 2015, when he severed a right hamstring tendon in a crash. He’d talked about returning this season but was unsuccessful in a contractual battle against his former ski manufacturer and now will not compete at all this year. He has said he likes the idea of returning next season to make his sixth Olympic team at age 40.

Meanwhile, Steven Nyman hoped to become the first American to win a world cup downhill title this season, and he stood a good chance until he suffered a season-ending knee injury in a crash at the end of January. The three-time Olympian will be turn 36 in February 2018, but he plans to return next season and do everything he can to return to the Games. After the crash, Nyman posted a photo to social media of himself in the hospital all banged up with the caption, “Well seasons finished for me. All the important parts are fine, just a blown knee and a scraped up face. I will be back!!! Rehab starts now!”

Sarah Hendrickson is no stranger to injuries. As the 2013 world champion, she was a favorite in ski jumping heading into Sochi, but a massive crash in the months leading up to the Games led to her needing reconstructive knee surgery. Then she landed awkwardly in training in the summer of 2015 and ended up needing a second ACL reconstruction of the same knee as well as bone graft surgery. She missed 18 months before returning to jumping in mid-October, and she returned to world cup competition in December. She is currently ranked 12th in the world.

On the cross-country side, Kikkan Randall took the 2015-16 season off in order to give birth to her first son, Breck, in April. By early July, however, the four-time Olympian was back with her team at a training camp. In January, she skied in a freestyle sprint final for the first time since March 2015 and finished fifth. Although she’d had two top-10 results prior to the event in Falun, Sweden, she had yet to make a final. Randall will soon compete in her ninth world championships.

Skeleton racer Katie Uhlaender, a three-time Olympian, missed a bronze medal in Sochi by just .04 seconds. After the Games she underwent back-to-back hip and ankle surgeries, bringing her total to 10 surgeries since 2002, plus at least one concussion, but this fall she returned to world cup racing for the first time since Jan. 24, 2014. On Tuesday, she tweeted, “It's #oneyear out from #korea2018 #olympics determined to make my 4th games and working hard to get there.”

Amanda Kessel handles the puck against Canada during the gold-medal game at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Bolshoy Ice Dome on Feb. 20, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

Amanda Kessel didn’t compete for two years after helping the U.S. women’s ice hockey team win a silver medal in Sochi because of post-concussion symptoms and didn’t skate again until September 2015. Then early this season she suffered a groin injury and missed three months with her NWHL team as well as the Four Nations Cup with Team USA. The winger played in the 2016 Team USA Winter Champions Series in mid-December, however, and is currently scheduled to captain her team at the NWHL All-Star Game in Pittsburgh on Feb. 12.

The past year has been one that 2014 Olympic team bronze medalist and two-time national figure skating champion Gracie Gold would likely rather forget. It began in April 2016, when she dropped from first to fourth at the world championships and continued throughout the fall as she struggled through the grand prix series. Finally, last month at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Gold finished sixth. It was the first time she was anything other than first or second in five appearances, and afterward she was left off the world championships team for the first time. Following the competition, she split with longtime coach Frank Carroll and recently announced she will now be training under Marina Zoueva and Oleg Epstein, who also work with Olympians Alex and Maia Shibutani as well as U.S. men’s champion Nathan Chen, in Michigan.

The 2015 U.S. champion pairs figure skating team of Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, who were married in June 2016, withdrew from two grand prix events in the fall to allow Alexa to recover from an unspecified stomach surgery. She said in a release only that she’d been “privately battling a series of internal ailments that left doctors baffled and my body in overwhelming pain.” The two said then that they planned to be back on the ice before the year was over, but they withdrew from the U.S. championships in January. Still, the duo successfully petitioned to be included on the world championship team and will make their competition debut at the Four Continents Championships beginning Feb. 15.

Bobsledders Steve Langton and Chris Fogt competed in Vancouver and Sochi, winning four-man bronze together in Sochi. Langton also won a bronze medal in the two-man. After Sochi, both stepped away from the sport, but it now appears they’re both ready to take a shot at PyeongChang. Fogt has been competing on the lower-level North American Cup circuit recently and has said he’ll try to make it back to the world cup and Olympic teams next season. Langton also recently announced that he plans to compete in the push championships next fall in the hopes of returning to the national team and Winter Games as well.

Adam Rippon celebrates after completing his free skate at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2016 at TD Garden on April 1, 2016 in Boston.

Mia Manganello quit speedskating in 2010 after missing out on the Vancouver Games by one second at the Olympic Trials and, after taking a year off from competitive sports, turned her attention to cycling. She spent the next five years as a professional cyclist, but in 2016 returned to the ice. In the fall, she made her first world cup team in nine seasons and finished fourth at her first race back. At the U.S. championships in January she won both the 1,500 and the 5,000, setting personal bests in both, and then in the 3,000 matched an American record and skated the second-fastest time in the world this season. She is competing this week at the World Single Distances Championships. 

Adam Rippon was warming up just a week before he was to defend his U.S. men’s figure skating title when he broke his foot. Despite the season-ending injury, however, Rippon vowed that he will be back and ready to go in 2018. “I have 12 months before the national championships in San Jose and the Olympic Games,” he said. “Twelve months is more than enough time to be prepared, especially with everything I’ve done, because when I come back I’ll have all the experience and work I’ve put in. It won’t disappear.”

If he does come back, he could have competition from Josh Farris. The former world junior champion figure skater won a U.S. bronze medal and Four Continents silver medal in 2015, but following multiple concussions he retired in 2016. However, Farris started to get his health back, and then his doctors cleared him to compete, so he decided that’s what he is going to do. 

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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