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Past Their Sell By Date?

Why do sports stars like Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps return to competition when they have already achieved such dizzying heights? Asks Roberto Pavoni

This year’s tennis at the French Open saw Roger Federer knocked out the earliest stage he has been in the last 10 years. The 32-year-old did not make it into the quarter finals and has now failed to reach a Grand Slam final since he won in Wimbledon in 2012.

Whilst I am a huge fan of Federer’s whole demeanour, and he continues to show signs of the great player he once was, it appears he can no longer play at the standard required to add to his record 17 career Grand Slams. It begs the question: why continue?

And it’s not just Federer either. In Formula One the great Michael Schumacher returned after a period of retirement, but failed to add to his record 91 previous Grand Prix victories.

Michael Phelps - the greatest ever - so why the comeback?

Michael Phelps – the greatest ever – so why the comeback?

Then of course, in swimming, we had five-time Olympic gold medallist Ian Thorpe’s attempt to qualify for the London 2012 Olympics after a five year absence from the sport. He was unsuccessful.

And now Michael Phelps has made his return to the pool. The winner of the most gold medals in a single Olympics, the most decorated Olympian of all time, and certainly the most successful swimmer ever, is back after less than two years out of the water. What is left for Phelps to achieve? How can he possibly improve on his incredible records? Nevertheless, he wants to continue.

What brings these idols back to the pitch, court, track or pool? Money? Perhaps. And yet these sportsmen will have earned vast sums of money during their careers. Sponsorships? Again, perhaps. Maybe they have been enticed by corporate promises if they return. Fame? Unlikely when you consider these are already some of the most recognised people in the sporting world. Glory? Surely not, if they are unable to compete at the heights they once did.

They no longer win, they no longer reach finals, they no longer qualify for international teams. So why do they risk their immaculate reputations as the very best their sports have ever seen? I am confident it is down to one collective motivation: the love of their sport.

They possess pure passion for what they do. A hunger to compete and be the best they can be, even when they have nothing left to prove. It is not about winning; it can’t be, otherwise they would have quit while they were ahead. It’s about the journey of self-improvement, and it’s something that should inspire us all.