Swiss tennis champion Martina Hingis played at her first Olympics in 1996. She announced her retirement Thursday (for a third time), two months after the demolition began of the Atlanta Games tennis center.
The 37-year-old Hingis went 20 years between Olympic appearances, taking doubles silver in Rio last year.
“I think if you asked me 10 years ago if I would be here in Rio, I would say you’re crazy,” Hingis said at the Rio Games, according to Agence France-Presse. “Because I didn’t play for six years and being able to play for gold is unbelievable.”
Her first Olympics came six months before the first of her five Grand Slam singles titles in the late 1990s.
She was the second-youngest singles player at the Atlanta Games, behind Anna Kournikova. Hingis, then 15, lost in the second round in singles in Atlanta but hoped to continue farther in doubles with Patty Schnyder so she could watch equestrian events.
“I have seen the dressage, but I would also like to see the jumping so I hope we can stay one more day,” the Slovakian-born Hingis said in 1996, according to the Independent. “If we lose, I go home.”
Hingis and Schnyder lost in the quarterfinals.
The next year, she rattled off her first three major victories — the Australian Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open. She skipped the Sydney 2000 Olympics to avoid injury risk.
Hingis missed the 2004 and 2008 Olympics during separate retirements.
Then, in 2011, the still-retired Hingis was asked by countryman Roger Federer‘s team to consider a comeback. She and Federer discussed playing mixed doubles at the London 2012 Olympics but decided against it.
Hingis unretired in 2013, to play doubles, and rose to No. 1 in the world. She won four more Grand Slam doubles titles — giving her 13 total — and six mixed doubles crowns, giving her seven total.
She was to play mixed doubles with Federer at the Rio Olympics until Federer pulled out with a knee injury.
That same week, less than two weeks before the Opening Ceremony, Hingis lost her Olympic doubles partner, Belinda Bencic, to a wrist injury.
Hingis went on to play in Rio with Timea Bacsinszky, losing the final to Russians Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina. Hingis was the second-oldest female player in Rio, behind Venus Williams.
Only one female Olympian has gone longer between Olympic appearances than Hingis’ 20-year gap — U.S. equestrian Jessica Newberry-Ransehousen (from 1964 to 1988), according to Olympic historian Bill Mallon of OlympStats.com.
The overall record is held by Japanese equestrian Hiroshi Hoketsu, who went 44 years from 1964 to 2008.
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