Best and Top of Everything : Top 10 Olympic Moments of 2012

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Top 10 Olympic Moments of 2012

10. Ireland’s Golden Girl


What would Ireland have done if women’s boxing didn’t make its Olympic debut in London? Katie Taylor earned the country’s only gold medal of the Games, out-swinging all the lads on the team — whose best finish was a silver — and proving that despite being soft-spoken, she can throw a punch. Taylor’s journey wasn’t an easy one: she and her trainer-father had to fight policies rooted in the strongly held belief that women have no place in the ring. But in London during her eight-minute gold-medal bout, as the entire nation of Ireland held its breath and her countrymen blanketed the arena in green and orange, quiet Katie delivered. It wasn’t an austere atmosphere. Organizers treated the new Olympic sport like a title match in Vegas, complete with dramatic spotlights and a booming announcer calling the rounds to deafening cheers from the crowd.

9. Dirty Pool?

image: Gold medallist Shiwen Ye of China poses on the podium during the medal ceremony in the Women's 200m Individual Medley final during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre, July 31, 2012

Did she or didn’t she? After Ye Shiwen, a shy 16-year-old swimmer from China, captured the gold medal in the 400-m individual medley event, the whispers began. Had Ye, who swam her final 50 m faster than her male Olympic counterpart and shaved five seconds off her personal best, doped in her world-record performance? The Chinese cried foul, saying there was no evidence whatsoever that Ye’s performance was chemically enhanced. Yes, a series of Chinese swimmers had been caught doping in international competition, but that was back in the ’90s. Besides, drug cheats are hardly a Chinese phenomenon. Even as a top American swimming coach cast aspersions on Ye’s time, the International Olympic Committee defended her. Ye captured another gold in the 200-m individual medley, but her Olympic celebrations were muted by the controversy surrounding her. A golden girl was tarred.

8. Shuttlecock Scandal

image: An official threatens Greysia Polii and Meiliana Jauhari of Indonesia and Jung Eun Ha and Min Jung Kim of Korea with a 'black card' disqualification in their Women's Doubles Badminton during the London 2012 Olympic Games at Wembley Arena, July 31, 2012.

You wouldn’t think that badminton would generate intrigue and subterfuge. But watchers of the London Olympics were transfixed when not one or two but four pairs of women’s doubles badminton players were disqualified for deliberately losing their matches. The reason for the foul play? The Indonesian, Chinese and South Korean shuttlers wanted an easier draw in their upcoming matches. But they didn’t bother pretending to try to win. “Such behavior is incompatible with the Olympic values,” said International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams. Maybe so. But the players who were dumped from competition, including the reigning Chinese pair, argued that they were simply taking advantage of the rules governing the round-robin format of Olympic badminton. The clear losers were the spectators, who had to endure a level of play more suitable to a weekend in the suburbs than the top echelons of sport. That’s putting the bad in badminton.

7. Making History on the Track

image: Oscar Pistorius of South Africa competes in the Men's 400m Round 1 heat during the 2012 London Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium, Aug. 4, 2012.

For Oscar Pistorius, all the scientific questions and legal battles became worth it on the morning of Aug. 4. That day, with 80,000 fans cheering him in the starting blocks, Pistorius made history, becoming the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics. Did prosthetics give Pistorius an advantage over able-bodied athletes? We may never know for sure. But after he finished second in his heat, there was no doubting his grit and sheer athleticism. No matter that he finished last in his semifinal heat the next evening. Athletes like Pistorius and Sarah Attar, the first Saudi Arabian woman to run in the Olympics — who finished last in her 800-m heat — created lasting Olympic memories by breaking down barriers.

6. Outstanding Opener

image: A performer in the role of Queen Elizabeth II parachutes out of a helicopter hovering above the stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium, July 27, 2012

Remember when people doubted that London could put on a great Games? We can’t either. But there were skeptics aplenty. Now, bathed in the glow of hindsight and Team GB’s 29 gold medals, nobody quite recalls the grounds for pessimism or when they began to realize that London’s Olympics might turn out really rather well.

So here’s a reminder: the moment came on July 27, before the torch was lit or a javelin had been thrown in earnest. Film director Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony began dramatically, with a green and pleasant vision of England giving way to the dark, satanic mills of industrialization. The Olympic stadium was packed to its triangular roof supports with celebrities, politicians and royalty. William! Kate! Harry! Charles! Camilla! This was almost a royal flush, but the Queen and her doughty consort Prince Philip were missing.

5. Fantastic Farah

image: Mohamed Farah of Great Britain celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win gold in the Men's 5000m Final during the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium, Aug. 11, 2012.

It may have been the greatest night in British sporting history. Within an hour, three British athletes — heptathlete Jessica Ennis, the U.K.’s poster child for the Games, long jumper Greg Rutherford and distance runner Mohamed Farah — won gold. “We got Willy Wonka’s ticket,” said delirious British fan Steve Wilkinson as he was leaving the Olympic stadium. Farah’s finish, in the 10,000-m race, was the most dramatic: during his kick in the last 50 m, you’d be hard-pressed to find a louder stadium anywhere in the world. “It was like someone gave me 10 cups of coffee,” Farah said of the home crowd’s effect. “It was just like, ‘Whoa.’ ” A week later, Farah electrified the stadium again as he took gold in the 5,000 m on the last night of racing.

4. A Scintillating Soccer Semifinal

image: The United States' Alex Morgan, far right, scores past Canada's goalkeeper Erin Mcleod, second from left, in the final minutes of extra time in the semi-final women's soccer match between the USA and Canada in the 2012 London Olympics, Aug. 6, 2012.

The setting was historic: Old Trafford, the pitch that Manchester United calls home. And the game — the women’s soccer semifinal, between the U.S. and Canada — was epic. Canada’s Christine Sinclair and American Megan Rapinoe each traded two goals to tie things up in the second half (Rapinoe scored her first one directly off a corner kick, a rare shot that was dubbed, ironically enough, the “Olympico”). Two minutes after Rapinoe knotted the match at 2-2, Sinclair headed in another in the 73rd minute, giving her a hat trick. A few minutes later, Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod got whistled for holding onto the ball for more than six seconds, a rule that is rarely enforced. And on the indirect free kick, Rapinoe blasted the ball against the arm of Canada’s Marie Eve-Nault. The refs made another debatable call — hand ball — that gave the Americans a penalty kick.

3. Glorious Gabby

image: From left: Gold medalist Team U.S. Mckayla Maroney, Kyla Ross, Alexandra Raisman, Gabrielle Douglas and Jordyn Wieber celebrate after the podium of the women's team competition of the artistic gymnastics event of the London Olympic Games, July 31, 2012.

It’s every gymnast’s dream to win the Olympic all-around title, but no U.S. athlete had ever done the twofer — the all-around and a team gold medal — until Gabrielle Douglas flipped and tumbled her way to the top of both podiums in London. Two days after doing her part to help the U.S. women’s gymnastics team earn its first gold since 1996 with nearly flawless performances, Douglas did it all again to claim the all-around gold. Even she didn’t know that she would be making history. “You learn something new every day!” she said when she found out. Douglas’ hug with coach Liang Chow when the final standings were announced spoke volumes: following her wins, she admitted that she had come close to quitting the sport after being the victim of bullying at a gym early in her career.

2. Bolt Strikes the Olympics — Again

image: Jamaica's Usain Bolt crosses the finish line to win and set a new world record in the men's 4X100 relay final at the athletics event of the London 2012 Olympic Games, Aug. 11, 2012.

One of the more pressing questions entering the London Olympics boiled down to, What’s wrong with Usain Bolt? He didn’t win Jamaica’s Olympic trials — Yohan Blake, his training partner, beat him in both the 100-m and 200-m races. But Bolt quieted the doubters with another stunning Olympic showing. In the 100 m, Bolt beat his time in Beijing, running a 9.63 sec. — a new Olympic record — in the fastest race ever, as seven of the eight finalists finished in under 10 sec. “There was a lot of talk,” Bolt said afterward. “I’m still the best.” Four days later, he won the 200 m, becoming the first Olympian to defend both the 100-m and 200-m titles. “I am now a living legend,” Bolt said. “Bask in my glory.” He wasn’t done: Bolt ran the anchor leg of the 4-by-100 relay two nights later, and he and his Jamaican teammates successfully defended that title too. After the 200 m, Bolt called himself “the greatest athlete to live.” After his performance, you can’t really call that an overstatement.

1. Grand Phelps Finale

image: U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps holds his trophy of the greatest olympic athlete of all time after he won gold in the men's 4x100m medley relay final during the swimming event at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Aug. 4, 2012.

When you’re the greatest Olympian of all time, it’s a challenge to find new ways to top yourself. After setting a record in gold-medal wins in Beijing, Michael Phelps wanted to make a new mark in London: the most decorated Olympian ever. And even with an uncharacteristic fourth-place finish in his first race, Phelps ended up accomplishing just that, closing out his career with his 18th gold medal (and 22nd medal overall) in the men’s 4-by-100-m medley relay. For eight years, both diehard fans and those new to the sport have been lured to the pool to satisfy their “will he or won’t he” curiosity, and they were rewarded by witnessing history. FINA, the international swimming federation, recognized Phelps’ achievements with a first-ever trophy to commemorate his unique status in both the sport and the Olympic movement. “I’ve been able to do everything I wanted,” said Phelps, who retired in London, of his history-making career. And now legions of new swimming fans can’t help but ask, What will we do in Rio?