The Olympics always give us a wide variety of stories to tell—stories about legendary performances, human perseverance, or athletes overcoming adversity. And the 2012 Summer Olympics were no different. We saw athletes playing through injuries, inspiring nations, making entire stadiums laugh, and, of course, making entire stadiums erupt with deafening cheers. So today we take a look back and bring you the best stories from the 2012 London Games, the ones we think will stick around for years to come—or at least ought to.
Some people have called the 2012 Summer Olympics the "Women's Games." This is not simply because, for the first time ever, every single country sent at least one female athlete to the Games, but also because countries like the United States actually sent more female athletes than men—and then those female athletes cleaned up, bringing in more medals and more gold.
Still, there is not greater symbol of "the Women's Games" than Saudi judoka Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani. She's from a country where women can't vote, can't drive, and can't leave the house without a male family member—a country that didn't even want her to compete in the Olympics but allowed her to so that the IOC didn't ban them from the Games entirely. Yet she had the courage to show up. And that's amazing.
15. Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani
Gabby Douglas won the all-around gold medal, but McKayla Maroney taught Jenna Bush how to Dougie and became the most famous internet meme to come out of the London Olympics thanks to the scowl she had on her face while receiving her silver medal in the women's vault final.
Oh, and before "losing" in the individual vault final, McKayla gave the single-greatest gymnastics performance at the 2012 Games during the women's all-around team competition. Apparently they don't like to give prefect scores anymore, but if they did, this vault would have gotten one.
So McKayla had quite an Olympics.
14. McKayla Maroney
Kenya's David Rudisha gave arguably the best individual performance of the 2012 Summer Games in the men's 800m final. Not only did he beat one of the best fields to ever run the 800m—two runners set national records and four set personal bests. He beat his own world record by sprinting all-out from the very start. His performance was so electrifying, in fact, that it got the British crowd up on its feet, cheering for a man who wasn't even representing their country.
Of course, that's the power of the Olympics.
13. Rudisha's Run
Jamaica's Usain Bolt was the undisputed rock star of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Though some were questioning his skills and commitment after he lost the 100m and 200m at the Jamaican Olympic trials to Yohan Blake. However, Bolt showed everyone that he was still the greatest sprinter in the world by winning gold in the same three events he won in 2008—and doing it in dominant fashion. Usain thus became the first man to ever win both the 100m and the 200m sprints in back-to-back Olympics. Then he became the first to win the 100m, the 200m, and the 4x100m back-to-back—a feat some have called a triple double.
Thus, at the 2012 London Games, we saw Usain Bolt cement his status as one of if not the greatest sprinter of all time. And if he can manage to do it again in 2016, at the age of just 29? Look out Michael Phelps.
Yang Hak-seon won South Korea's first ever gold medal in gymnastics in London, besting his competitors in the men's vault finals. That alone would be a nice-enough story. But this one gets better.
You see, it turns out that Yang had been living in abject poverty with his parents for years. The family lived in a shack made of thin wooden boards and plastic sheeting in rural South Korea, but nobody knew—not the Korea Gymnastic Association, not the media, and not even his coach. And yet this guy managed to overcome his economic troubles and train hard enough to reach the pinnacle of his sport. Which is just freakin' awesome.
Of course, now that his story has gotten out, he's no longer poor. The chairman of LG donated about $444,000 to the 20-year-old, a construction company has vowed to build him an apartment valued at $190,000, and the chairman of the Korean Gymnastic Association has personally given him $88,800.
11. Rags to Riches
Michael Phelps came into these games hoping to eclipse the all-time mark for medals won (18), which Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina set way back in 1964. And after a rough start that had everyone a little nervous, the superstar swimmer rebounded to win 4 golds and 2 silvers in 2012. That gave him 22 total medals, with 18 of them gold, and he thus became the most-decorated and arguably greatest Olympian of all time.
Of course, Phelps won gold in his final two Olympic events, which is a nice-enough ending to his career. However, nothing captures the legacy Phelps leave behind better than one of his silver medal victories.
In the 200m butterfly, his most dominant event—or his "signature event" as the media pundits liked to say—Phelps actually lost. But he didn't lose to just anybody. He lost to a 20-year-old South African named Chad de Clos, a guy who decided when he was 12 years old, watching Phelps win gold in Athens, that he wanted to be just like him. And so there he was, 8 years later, beating his swimming idol in the event that made him famous. It was a sign that the Phelps era is over, but also a sign of what his legacy will be going forward.
10. Phelps & Clos
Rower Katherine Grainger has been one of Great Britain's most famous Olympians over the last 12 years. It's not just that she won three silver medals in rowing in 2000, 2004, and 2008. It's that she's really good, and by all accounts an amazing and classy person who is both incredibly smart (she has a masters in philosophy and is about to get a PhD in law) and incredibly kind (once an 11-year-old girl wrote her a letter asking for her autograph, so Grainger showed up at her door to give her one in person).
So Grainger is absolutely beloved in Great Britain, and the entire country was desperate for her to finally win gold this year. Then, in a real-life Hollywood ending, she did win gold, and the entire country shared her joy.
9. Katherine Grainger's Gold
When Germany's Robert Harting won gold in the discus, he gave us the celebration of the Olympics. He ripped off his shirt like the Incredible Hulk, grabbed a German flag to wear as a cape, and then showed off his hurdle skills. Oh, and he also tried to grab one of the flames from the Olympic cauldron.
While trying to steal an Olympic flame was probably too much (as was the drunken binger that night which led to his passing out, getting robbed, and sleeping on a train), you have to appreciate the guy's joy. That's what people should feel when they win Olympic gold, isn't it? Joy that makes you want to run hurdles and party like it's going out of style?
8. The Celebration
The USA's Kayla Harrison would have been a noteworthy story just because she won her country's first ever gold medal in Judo. However, her story is even more powerful because of what she had to overcome.
You see, Kayla was sexually abused as a child...by her Judo coach. However, she was determined not to let her tragedy define her or take from her the sport she loved so much. So she didn't quit Judo. Instead, she made it her therapy, and she kept training...and training...and training. Then she won a gold medal at the Olympics in spite of everything.
How's that for character?
7. America's Judoka
A lot of attention was given to the poor officiating that contributed to the Canadians' loss to the Americans in the semifinals of the women's Olympic soccer tournament. But focusing too much on the bad calls obscures the huge and somewhat shocking achievement of this team.
After all, these women were not expected to medal at the Olympics, yet they took the best team in the world to overtime and only lost on a last second goal by Alex Morgan in what was probably the greatest women's soccer game ever played. Then they held off another team who was probably better than them—France—for 90 minutes before scoring a goal in extra time to steal the bronze medal.
And here's more context: Canada is hosting the next women's World Cup in 2015. Could there have been a more opportune time for a huge breakthrough and the emergence of a Canadian soccer hero in Christine Sinclair? (Answer: no.)
6. Canadian Women's Soccer
I don't know about you, but when I watch a major sporting event, and my team's not in the mix, I almost always find myself rooting for the home team—assuming they aren't intolerable d-bags. Why? Because it's fun to live vicariously through the exhilaration of the fans. Watching their happiness on TV rubs off just a little.
It's the same at the Olympics. It's always nice to see athletes from the home country win gold. It makes the fans happy, and the athletes themselves are often overwhelmed with emotion. So it's just great TV.
And at the 2012 Summer Olympics, we had one really special night of hometown heroes. On Saturday, August 4, three British track athletes won gold in a span on 44 minutes. First Jessica Ennis clinched the Heptathlon in style by winning the final event—the 800m race. Then Greg Rutherford won the long jump, even though he had never even won a medal at a World Championships before, let alone the Olympics. And, finally, Somali-born Mo Farah won Britain's first gold medal in the 10,000m in one of the most exciting middle distances track events you will ever see.
Three golds, 44 minutes. And here's a fact to help you understand the significance: in 1996, Great Britain won just one gold medal in the entire Games.
5. Team GB's Golden Night
Great Britain invented the game of tennis. Or at least they think they did. (The French also have a claim to the claim.) Either way, they do have the world's most famous and prestigious tennis event—Wimbledon. However, no British man has won Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936, and that's a long time to go without cheering one of your countrymen to victory on home soil.
This year at Wimbledon, Britain's Andy Murray made it to the finals to face Roger Federer—perhaps the best men's tennis player of all time—and lost. But just a month later Murray got another chance to give his country a huge tennis victory on home soil, in the finals of the Olympics, and he delivered.
For a guy like Federer, winning a gold medal is just icing on the legendary tennis career cake. But for Murray, this kind of victory, which means so much to his country, has to be the highlight of his career.
4. Andy Murray Comes Through
Next year when you look up "teammate" in the dictionary, there will be a picture of Manteo Mitchell. He was running the opening leg of the men's 4x400m relay for Team USA, and about halfway through he heard (and felt) a nasty pop and knew something was very, very wrong. However, he also knew that if he didn't finish his leg of the race his team would be disqualified with no chance for a medal. So he persevered through the pain to finish his leg—and though he fell far behind, he finished strong enough so that his teammates could make up the ground and end up winning the heat. Then the rest of the team eventually made it to the finals and won a silver medal.
So what was wrong with Mitchell? Oh, just a little broken femur. No big deal.
3. The Broken Leg
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that no Olympian at the 2012 London Games captured the hearts and undivided attention of her country the way Ireland's Katie Taylor did. Ireland has had is particularly tough since the beginning of the global recession four years ago. However, the entire country—and I mean the entire country—rallied behind their pioneering female boxing hero, thus giving a much needed vacation from their worries. And by all accounts, 26-year-old Katie Taylor is just about the most likable person on Earth, let alone in Ireland—she's charismatic, charming, cute, humble, a devout Christian (well okay, that probably doesn't make her likable everywhere), and, of course, a gifted fighter.
Her story is a legend: she took a fancy to boxing while watching her working class dad shadow-boxing in their kitchen as a child. He started training her, and at the age of 15 she appeared in the first ever sanctioned female bout. For the 2012 Games, all of Ireland literally shut down every time Taylor fought, and tens of thousands of fans went to London to see her fight in person. And the night she won gold in the women's lightweight final, there were more Irish in London's Excel arena than anybody else.
There may be other athletes from the 2012 Olympics who are as revered in their home countries as Katie Taylor is in Ireland. But certainly no one is more revered.
2. Katie of Ireland
Surely you already know this story. This guy was born with a defect that necessitated the amputation of both legs just below the knee when he was less than one year old. But he never considered himself disables or disadvantages, and so became a great athlete in spite of the hand he was dealt. Then, in 2008, after years of dominating the Paralympic Games, he finally won the right to compete with able-bodied athletes when an international court of arbitration declares that his artificial carbon fiber feet didn't give him an advantage over everybody else.
With the path cleared, all Oscar Pistorius had to do was make South Africa's Olympic team. That shouldn't be hard, right? Well, it was, obviously, and it was close, but the guy made the team. Then he made the semifinals of the men's 400m race in London and showed the world what the human spirit is capable of—hope, drive, perseverance, and joy.
And here's the real kicker: Pistorius is just an extremely nice, warm guy. He spends a lot of time working with children with the same "disadvantages" as him, and all his competitors seem to like him.
Thus, in short, if there's one story you'll tell your kids about the 2012 Olympics 10 or 20 years from now, it will probably be the story of Oscar Pistorius.
1. Oscar Pistorius
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