Pandemic year turns setbacks into amazing comebacks

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Thapelo Morena after injuring his ankle. Picture: Samuel Shivambu / Backpagepix
Thapelo Morena after injuring his ankle. Picture: Samuel Shivambu / Backpagepix


The pandemic-enforced break was not doom and gloom for all sports stars.

It turned out that the long break was a blessing in disguise for those athletes whose season was interrupted by serious injury and who were facing a lengthy period on the sidelines.

When the Covid-19 pandemic began, it presented more time for those with injuries to recover while their respective campaigns were put on hold.

Think Mamelodi Sundowns’ versatile player Thapelo Morena, who fractured his ankle in February; sprinter Wayde van Niekerk, who was racing against time to be fit for the Olympic Games; and Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, who was ruled out for the remainder of the Super Rugby season following a serious knee injury in February.

Internationally, Tottenham Hotspur coach José Mourinho was stressing over long-term injuries to strikers Harry Kane (hamstring tear) and Son Heung-min (broken arm), who were also ruled out of the 2019/20 season.

But as fate would have it, sport and the rest of the world went on pause for months. And by the time the rescheduled calendar went out later in the year, the sports scene had witnessed some unexpected comebacks.

  • Morena fractured his ankle in Sundowns’s 1-0 Nedbank Cup Last 32 win over SuperSport United in February and was ruled out of the season that was initially going to end in May.

However, in July, the player, who turned 27 in August, was back at training, preparing for the resumption of the premiership.

Morena marked his official return as a late substitute in Sundowns’ win over Bloemfontein Celtic in the Nedbank Cup final played in the bio-bubble in September in what was the last day of last campaign.

He was also recalled to Bafana Bafana and played the full 90 minutes in the team’s back-to-back Afcon qualifiers against São Tomé and Príncipe last month.

  • When Kolisi left the field in the 25th minute with a knee injury after taking a late tackle in the Stormers’ 27-0 opening Super Rugby win over the Hurricanes at Newlands Stadium on February 1, it was projected that the flanker would be out for between 10 and 12 weeks.
Siya Kolisi
Bok captain Siya Kolisi recovered. Picture: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images

The return to play for the local Super Rugby franchises after a six-month hiatus saw Kolisi leading his side against Emirates Lions.

  • Van Niekerk marked his return to the track at a low-key competition in Bloemfontein in February after a long recovery and rehabilitation process from a knee operation in 2017.

Luckily for him, the Olympics were postponed by a year, just when he was racing against time to be fit enough to defend his 400m title at the multicode event that was initially scheduled for July/August in Tokyo.

Van Niekerk’s planned international comeback in Italy this August was disrupted when he tested positive for Covid-19 on the eve of the race, before the 28-year-old eventually made an emotional return to competitive athletics with a victory in the 400m at a competition in Switzerland in the middle of September.

  • Kane and Son were back in the Spurs’ line-up when the Premier League’s delayed season resumed in June, and the pair were key in the Lilywhites’ campaign to qualify for the Uefa Europa League.


Daniel Mothowagae 

Deputy sports editor

+27 11 713 9001
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park

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