Olympics 2012: The Names That Shaped The London Games
All the world’s a stage, and the 10,800 men and women competing in the 30th Olympiad were merely players, making us wish a few extra acts could be written into these London Games.
As we start the countdown clock to Rio 2016, and before the national sports media once again becomes saturated with New York Jets drama and reports on an SEC football player winding up in the news for all the wrong reasons, here’s a rundown of the names that made headlines eight time zones across the pond.
We witnessed the swansong of Michael Phelps, who swam his way into retirement, but not before adding four gold and two silvers to his record haul of 22 Olympic medals ― 18 of which are gold. Phelps’ victories in the men’s 100-meter butterfly and 200-meter individual medley made him the first man to win an individual swimming event at three straight Olympics.
Usain Bolt called himself a legend, and aimed a few verbal jabs at another. But when the lights came on at the Olympic Stadium, the soon-to-be 26-year-old Jamaican backed up that bravado by successfully defending his Olympic titles in both the 100 and 200 meters.
Bolt also anchored the record-setting Jamaican men’s 4x100-meter relay team in its gold-medal repeat.
The Supporting Actors
The two megastars had a less-heralded rival to push them to greater heights. Enter, Ryan Lochte, the perfect foil to the reserved Phelps.
With his bright green shoes at poolside and American flag grill on the medal podium, Lochte comes off as the super self-assured bro at a college party who doesn’t realize people are laughing at him behind his back. But the former Florida Gator was game enough to bag five medals ― two gold ― and split his two medley races with Phelps.
In just about any non-Bolt Olympics, Yohan Blake's 9.75 in the 100 meters and 19.44 in the 200 meters would probably make him the star of the Games. But the 22-year-old will have to wait four more years to dethrone his countryman on the world’s biggest stage.
American Women Take Charge
For the first time ever, there were more women (269) than men (261) on the U.S. Olympic team and 29 of the Americans’ 46 golds were won by females.
The U.S. women’s gymnastics team of Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Jordyn Wieber and Kyla Ross ― also known as the "Fierce Five" ― certainly do not deserve the “Fab Five” label famously bestowed upon the Michigan men’s basketball team of the early '90s ― mainly because this collection of talent in London actually won titles to justify the hype.
The Americans nailed all 12 routines to win gold in the team all-around competition, but weren’t finished there. Douglas, the lone U.S. gymnast to compete in all four apparatuses in the team event, captured her own gold by winning the individual all-around title.
Raisman collected gold on floor exercise with a routine paying tribute to the 11 Israeli athletes slain during the Munich Games, in addition to earning bronze in balance beam. Meanwhile, Maroney settled for silver on the vault and the fact that she didn’t seem too impressed spawned arguably the most popular Internet meme of the Olympics.
Over in the pool, the American women’s 4x100-meter medley team of Missy Franklin, Rebecca Soni, Dana Vollmer and Allison Schmitt — all of whom bagged individual gold in their specialties — smashed the world record in that event.
Not to be outdone, the women on the U.S. 4x100-meter team, headlined by individual gold medalists Carmelita Jeter (100 meters) and Allyson Felix (200 meters) also set a new world-record mark in scoring one of the rare American victories over rival Jamaica at these Games.
Felix also ran the first leg of the gold medal-winning 4x400 relay team anchored by 400 meters champ Sanya Richards-Ross, whose total of four Olympic golds now gives her bragging rights over husband Aaron Ross, a two-time Super Bowl champion currently with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
On the storied courts of Wimbledon, Serena Williams completed the career Golden Slam by adding an Olympic singles title to championships she won in the four major tennis tournaments. And on the shooting range, Kim Rhode became the first American to medal in five straight Olympics after hitting 99 out of 100 targets to win gold in the women's skeet competition.
The domination by female athletes also extended over to the team sports. The U.S. women’s basketball team demolished its foes by an average margin of 34.4 points to collect its fifth straight gold. The American women's water polo team found its first-ever Olympic gold and the women’s eights rowing team successfully defended its Beijing title.
In possibly the most scintillating game in a team sport of the entire Olympics, the U.S. women's soccer team came from a goal down three times in its semifinal match against Canada to force extra time. Alex Morgan delivered an extra-time strike to give the Americans a 4-3 victory and set up the World Cup rematch against Japan for the gold medal.
Hats off also to Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, and yes, even you Hope Solo deserve props for the key saves against the Japanese — even when it appeared your Twitter bombs against Brandi Chastain might overshadow the team’s run.
Sorry, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. That 156-73 laugher over Nigeria brought up shades of the 1992 Dream Team ripping Angola. But with all due respect, some of the teams mentioned above came closer to that “Dream Team” label than yours did.
But fear not, gentleman. There were notable performances by U.S. male athletes who do not swim or play hoops.
World record-holding decathlete Ashton Eaton won gold falling 24 points shy of the Olympic record. At only 24 years old, Eaton is young enough to compete for “world’s greatest athlete” titles for years to come — which means he’s probably in the driver’s seat to land a Kardashian too.
Jordan Burroughs (74 kilograms) and Jake Varner (96 kilograms) both won gold in wrestling, showing the world that America does produce championship grapplers not named John Cena or CM Punk.
And on the 10-meter platform, David Boudia's gold against a heavily-favored Chinese diver was the first by an American man in the event since Greg Louganis in 1988.
Olympic World Tour
Okay, enough about Team USA or Bolt and Blake. It’s time to look at a few other noteworthy feats by international athletes.
David Rudisha (Kenya): Broke the 1:41 mark with his gold medal-winning performance in the men’s 800 meters.
Ous Mellouli (Tunisia): Won gold in the men’s 10-kilometer swim and bronze in the 1,500-meter freestyle to become the first swimmer to win medals in both the pool and open water at the same Games.
Aliya Mustafina (Russia): Came away the most decorated gymnast in London after collecting four medals, but somehow always looks like she’s about to break out into tears when the cameras are on her.
Ranomi Kromowidjojo (Netherlands): Earned the title of fastest woman in the pool with wins in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle and probably deserves another gold for having the best name in the Olympics.
Mo Farah (Great Britain): Distance runner grabbed titles in the men’s 5,000 and 10,000 meters in front of the home crowd.
Honor thy country
Andy Murray finally overcame his demons at the All-England Club by winning gold against Roger Federer at the same Centre Court venue where he lost the Wimbledon final to Federer just a month ago. Murray did so in straight sets in front of a pro-British crowd.
In cycling, Bradley Wiggins won gold in the men’s time trial just two weeks after capturing the Tour de France, while track cyclist Chris Hoy added titles in the men’s team sprint and keirin to bring his career gold tally to six.
The Brits’ haul of 29 gold medals was the largest since the 1908 Games and it created a few lasting memories for the host nation. Alas, for all of Team GB’s triumphs, a soccer team full of English players (true to World Cup form) still found a way to lose a quarterfinal match on penalty kicks.
Dishonor thy country
The most notorious scandal in the Games came in the women's badminton doubles competition, where the teams from China, South Korea and Indonesia were disqualified from London for intentionally tanking matches in an effort to get a better draw. Now if only teams in American sports trying to get a better draft position could be disciplined for mailing it in.
Other London Moments Not To Be Forgotten
Oscar Pistorius (South Africa): The 400-meter runner who runs on carbon-fiber blades is the first double-amputee to compete in track at the Olympics.
Hamadou Djibo Issaka (Niger): The rower endeared himself to fans ala Eric “The Eel” Moussambani while clocking slow times in the men’s single sculls. Issaka took up rowing just three months before the Olympics and qualified for London as a wildcard entry.
Liu Xiang (China): The 2004 110-meter hurdles champ stumbled into the first hurdle of his 110-meter hurdles preliminary heat and withdrew from the race with an injured right Achilles tendon. Liu symbolically completed the race by hopping to the side of the track and making his way to the finish line on one leg.
Manteo Mitchell (USA): Someone please hand him the “Kerri Strug Take One for the Team Award.” Mitchell ran the final 200 meters of his portion of the men’s 4x400 semifinal even after hearing a pop in his left leg. The U.S. went on to win silver in the event.
And Finally…A Few Stars To Look Forward To In 2016 Not Named Usain Bolt
Missy Franklin: The 17-year-old will perhaps be the new face of USA Swimming with Phelps walking away from the sport.
Kirani James: The 19-year-old gold medalist in the men’s 400 meters won Grenada’s first-ever Olympic medal.
Alex Morgan: The 23-year-old American forward with the signature pink headband could be the best women’s player in the world by the time Rio rolls around.
Ye Shiwen: The 16-year-old Chinese swimmer swept the women’s individual medleys and swam a faster final 50 meters than Lochte’s time in the men’s event.
Maggie Steffens: The 19-year-old incoming Stanford freshman led all scorers with 21 goals to lead the U.S. women's water polo team to gold.
Claressa Shields: The 17-year-old middleweight won the first-ever gold by a U.S. female boxer.
Umm…Tiger Woods?: Yep, golf will be an Olympic sport in 2016. So assuming the 14-time major champion makes it to Rio, feel free to insert your own Tiger Olympic Village joke here.
Read more of Neon Tommy's 2012 Olympic coverage here.