sports gazette

Playing Through Pain

Published: 8 Dec 2014

Despite playing with a broken ankle, Ronnie O’Sullivan won the UK Championship last week. With the Rocket defying the odds, the Sports Gazette looks at 5 other sports stars who gritted their teeth and played through injury.

5. Tiger Woods, 2008 U.S. Open

Winning a major is tough, any former champion will vouch for that. Winning a major with a botched knee, as Tiger Woods did at the 2008 U.S. Open, is nothing short of miraculous.

On 15 April, two months before the tournament, Woods underwent surgery on his left knee. In the weeks building up to major, the controversial champion sustained two stress fractures of the tibia and was told he would be on crutches for weeks. The likelihood of Tiger competing at the event, never mind winning, appeared bleak.

Despite being in visible pain and often using his clubs as makeshift crutches, Woods hobbled around the Torrey Pines course and recorded a winning score of 1 under – a sensational achievement.

The victory came at a cost, though, with Woods missing the remainder of the 08 season to undergo further surgery on his wounded knee.

4. Graeme Smith, Australia v South Africa (2009)

Upon Graeme Smith’s retirement from international cricket, Haroon Lorgat, Cricket South Africa’s chief executive, said: “Graeme is a mighty warrior and a leader of men.”

One incident that epitomised this characterisation occurred on 7 January 2009.

South Africa had won the first two Tests of a three-match series in Australia, but with national pride and international rankings on the line, Smith did something incredible on the fifth day of the final Test.

The tourists’ captain suffered a broken hand during the first innings after a fierce delivery from Mitchell Johnson rattled into his left glove. Smith retired hurt and did not plan to bat in the second innings and therefore arrived at the ground on day five without gear.

However, in an attempt to save the Test, he heroically decided to bat. He borrowed a shirt from Jacques Kallis, had his spikes laced by Morne Morkel and, without any painkillers, strode out to the SCG at number 11 with 50 deliveries to survive.

He blocked several balls, grimacing as the ball sent thumping vibrations through his bat and into his wounded hand. But, with just ten balls remaining, Johnson found a way through his defence.

Graeme Smith was disappointed to be dismissed, but his 3 from 17 balls remains one of the most courageous innings ever played.

This is the Olympics. This is what you dream about from when you’re five years old. I wasn't going to stop.

3. Kerri Strug, 1996 Atlanta Olympics

The equation for Kerri Strug was simple. Sprint towards the springboard, perform a back handspring pike with a half twist, land sufficiently and win the USA gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. A minor problem, however, was that Strug had a severely sprained ankle.

The 4ft 9in gymnast had injured her foot during her previous routine and therefore knew that her next jump would inevitably result in excruciating pain.

“This is the Olympics. This is what you dream about from when you’re five years old. I wasn’t going to stop,” Strug recalled.

The 18-year-old, with a mixture of determination and apprehension in her eyes, launched into the routine and crunched down on to her wounded ankle. Somehow she managed to stand and salute the judges, before falling to the floor in agony.

Strug was awarded an epic score of 9.712 and was carried to the podium in an ankle brace, where she collected her gold medal clinging on to her team-mates for support.

The American was later treated for a third-degree lateral sprain and tendon damage. While she never competed professionally again, Kerri Strug had already become a national heroine and etched her name into Olympic history.

2. Paul Wood, 2012 Super League Grand Final

To say that Paul Wood has sour memories of the 2012 Super League Grand Final would be a severe understatement. Not only did his team, Warrington Wolves, lose 26-18 to Leeds Rhinos, but also, and arguably more painfully, he suffered a ruptured testicle.

The rupture occurred when an opposition player kneed him in the groin shortly after half-time and yet, astonishingly, the Prop continued to play for twenty minutes.

Even after being replaced, Wigan-born Wood did not seek medical help and made no mention of the injury in the post-match interview. It was only later that evening that Wood was taken to hospital and the 30-year-old confirmed on Twitter that his right testicle had been surgically removed: “Just coming out the hospital to go home... Seriously feel like I've left something?”

1. Bert Trautmann, 1956 FA Cup Final

Modern football, with its absurd volume of diving and playacting, would do well to learn from the extraordinary Bert Trautmann, who quite literally put his neck on the line in the 1956 FA Cup Final.

Les McDowall’s Manchester City were leading Birmingham 3-1 when, in the 73rd minute, Trautmann rushed out to intercept Peter Murphy. The two collided heavily with Murphy’s knee clattering in to the German-born keeper’s neck.

With Trautmann, who had served as a paratrooper in the Luftwaffe during World War Two, heavily concussed it appeared City would finish the match with ten men.

The dazed and unsteady German carried on, however, and for the remaining 15 minutes he defended his goal admirably, making two vital stops as City held on for FA Cup victory.

Despite being unable to move his head at the post-match banquet, Trautmann believed his painful injury would naturally heal. It was only four days later that an X-ray revealed Trautmann had played the last fifteen minutes of a FA Cup Final with five dislocated vertebrae.

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