Liam Day recaps the top 10 most transcendent moments of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
So engrossing were this summer’s Olympics that this list could be twice as long without really sacrificing any quality. It is worth, upfront, honorably mentioning some athletes whose performances during any other Olympic Games, might have warranted inclusion in a list of this kind, but unfortunately, did not make the cut this year: Missy Franklin, Ryan Lochte, the U.S. Women’s 8-person crew—which hasn’t lost a race in 6 years—during which stretch they’ve picked up a pair of gold medals, and Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings, who have now taken gold in beach volleyball at three consecutive Olympics.
Though great, those performance were not quite as transcedent as the list I now give you. So, without further ado, here are 10 Transcendent Moments of the 2012 Summer Olympics:
1) U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team – Against a backdrop of history and media-generated controversy, the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team’s dominating performance tended to get lost. The feel-good story that was Gabby Douglas becoming the first African-American woman to win gold in the all-around competition was supplanted by the truly stupid chatter over Twitter about her hair. This was then followed by the Fox News Channel’s criticism of anti-American sentiment it perceived in the team’s choice of uniforms. None of it, though—neither the good, the bad, nor the ugly—can completely overshadow what was an overall team performance of historic dominance. The final spread between the American women and silver medal winning Russia was a full five points, the widest in 60 years. Here’s video of Aly Reisman’s floor performance, which clinched the gold.
2) Katie Ledecky turned just 15 years old in March. Today, she is a gold-medal winning swimmer, having finished the 800 meter freestyle just .53 of a second shy of the world record, more than 2 seconds ahead of the American record, and four and six seconds, respectively, ahead of the silver and bronze medal winners, including defending Olympic champion and hometown favorite Rebecca Adlington.
3) Ye Shiwen – Questions have been raised regarding the legitamacy of the Chinese teenager’s performance in the 200 and 400 meter individual medleys. However, absent any evidence, the questions are merely unfair speculation, especially considering that similar questions have not been raised about the steep improvement in Katie Ledecky’s times over the last year. Ye Shiwen took gold in both events, setting a new world record in the 400 meter IM, even swimming the final leg faster than Ryan Lochte managed when winning gold in the same event.
4) Another Chinese swimmer, Sun Yang, earns his spot on this list with four medals at the London Games, including gold in the 400 meter freestyle and 1500 meter freestyle, in which he fairly obliterated his own world record by three seconds and the competition, which included the defending Olympic champion, by more than 8. Here’s video of the race.
5) Michael Phelps. Ryan Lochte may have gotten some of the spotlight early on, but, ultimately, as at each of the past two Games, Michael Phelps stole the show. The American swimmer collected another six medals, including four golds, to become the most decorated athlete in Olympic history. Not only that, but when he beat Lochte in the 200 meter individual medley, he became the only swimmer in the history of the Games to win the same event three times. Then, when he came from seventh place on the final leg to take gold in the 100 meter butterfly, he did it again. Here is video of the relay that earned Phelps his 19th record-breaking medal.
6) Andy Murray has been the fourth best tennis player on the planet for about half a decade now. It just happens that the three players ranked ahead of him are among the greatest players ever to grace a tennis court. In his four previous appearances in a Grand Slam final he has lost, and convincingly, three times to the man who faced him across the net in the Olympic Championship, the last time, less than a month before, on the very same court where they would compete for gold. In front of a frenzied home crowd, Murray was, at last, able to break through, dispatching the great Roger Federer in three surprisingly easy sets – 6-2, 6-1, 6-4.
7) Usain Bolt – Yes, he is arrogant, but when you are as fast as Usain Bolt is, pride is no sin. Bolt took gold in both the 100 and 200 meters for the second straight Olympics, the first runner ever to accomplish the feat. He also anchored the Jamaican 4 x 100 meter relay team, which set a new world record. His time of 9.63 seconds in the 100 meter final was a mere 0.05 of a second off his own world record, run against perhaps the most competitive field in Olympic history. Among the runners he blew past were the defending world champion and the 2004 Olympic Champion. In fact, in what I can only imagine is an incredibly frustrating result for American Tyson Gay, who ran a personal best of 9.80 seconds, but still managed only a fourth-place finish, the race was so fast that his time would have been good enough to win every Olympic 100 meter race prior to 2008, or, in other words, prior to the advent of Usain Bolt, who, I think it is now safe to claim, is the greatest sprinter in history. Here’s an NBC video showing all three races.
8) David Rudisha – No runner in history had ever set a world record in the 800 meters without a pace setter, but, despite the absence of a metaphorical rabbit to chase, David Rudisha broke his own world record, crossing the finish line at the Olympic Stadium in 1.40.91. No less an authority than Lord Sebastian Coe, Chair of the Olympic organizing committee, and for 16 years holder of that same record, called it his favorite moment of the Games. You can watch the race here.
9) Hope Solo – Like Gabby Douglas, Hope Solo, goalie for the U.S. Women’s Soccer team, was dogged by media-generated controversy throughout the Games, but, unlike Gabby Douglas, she courted it, most prominently by slamming NBC commentator Brandi Chastain in a series of tweets. Fortunately for her teammates, she didn’t allow it to distract her. Solo made a series of extraordinary saves to preserve the lead in the gold-medal winning match against Japan, none more spectacular than her leaping save in the 82nd minute, when one of the American defenders coughed up the ball deep in their own half of the field, leaving Solo one-on-one against the Japanese attacker. Here is a compilation of her saves, again courtesy of NBC.
10) U.S. Women’s 4 x 100 meter relay team – During an Olympics in which a number of world records were eclipsed, the oldest record to fall was the women’s 4 x 100 meter relay time of 41.37 seconds set by East Germany in 1985. The American team of Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight, and Carmelita Jeter blazed to gold in 40.82 seconds.
Lead Photo of David Rushida courtesy of AP