1. Phelps Becomes Most Decorated Olympic Athlete in History
Even with all the question marks surrounding Michael Phelps and his purported laziness in training heading into the London Olympics, it was still a foregone conclusion that the swimming great would pass gymnast Larissa Latynina to become the most decorated Olympian of all time. Phelps' 19th medal would come during the 4x200m freestyle relay, which Phelps uncharacteristically anchored. Ending his Olympic career with 22 medals (18 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze), Phelps will likely go down as the greatest swimmer ever.
2. Usain Bolt sets Olympic Record in Men’s 100m Final
Questions surfaced about the speed of the 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist after his disqualification at the 2011 World Championships and more recently, his loss to countryman Yohan Blake at the Jamaican Olympic Trials. However, Bolt once again proved that he is the world’s fastest man, running an Olympic Record 9.63s in the finals that left the rest of field in the dust. He joins the venerable Carl Lewis as only the second person in history to successfully defend their gold medal in the 100m dash. (UPDATE: Bolt has become the first man to win the Olympic 100-200m double twice.)
3. GYMNASTIC MOMENTS
McKayla Maroney’s Near-Perfect Vault
McKayla Maroney’s performance on the vault during the team gymnastics competition was pivotal in lifting the United States to its first Olympic gold medal in the event since the 1996 Atlanta Games. The 2011 World Champion in the vault made her two-and-a-half twisting laid-out Yurchenko vault, colloquially known as an Amanor, look easy. She scored a 16.233 that experts agree should have been even higher as the judges inexplicably deducted 0.267 points from Maroney. Of all the highlights from Team USA’s gold medal performance, none will be remembered more than this amazing vault.
Gabby Douglas Becomes the First
Equally as memorable is the amazing achievement of Gabby Douglas, the first African-American gymnast in Olympic history to become the individual all-around champion, and the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics. Her winning smile and athletic achievement has made her a household name.
4. Murray Defeats Federer in Men’s Singles Final
Playing on home turf, Murray avenged his loss to Federer in the Wimbledon Championship to bring home a gold medal for Great Britain. Murray won emphatically, defeating No. 1 Federer in straight sets. His victory marked the first time Great Britain has taken gold in tennis since the sports’ reintroduction to the Olympics in 1988. No sport means more to the host nation Great Britain than tennis, whose roots lie in Birmingham, England, making Murray’s victory especially sweet.
5. Missy Franklin Sweeps Backstroke Events in Olympic Debut
No athlete making their Olympic debut has ever been subjected to as much pressure as 17-year-old Missy Franklin was coming into the London Games. She lived up to the hype, however, earning four gold medals and one bronze, and setting two world record times. Franklin emerges out of these games as one of the most prominent female athletes in the world and figures to an even greater threat four years from now in Rio.
6. South African Double-Amputee Reaches 400m Semi-Finals
Oscar Pistorius didn’t even have to make an Olympic final to make history. Named one of Forbes Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, Pistorius made history as the first double-amputee runner to compete at the Olympic games. Overcoming his disability to run with some of the world’s fastest men, the South African native reached the semi-final of the men’s 400m. His participation should mark a watershed moment in parathlete history, since it proved to the world that a disabled athlete can and should be taken seriously.
7. China’s 16-Year-Old Phenom Ye Shiwen Shocks the World
You may not have heard of Ye Shiwen before the London Olympics, but the entire world is familiar with the swimmer following her extraordinary performance in the 400m IM. Her world-record time of 4:28.43 was nearly 3 seconds faster than the silver medalist and even more shocking, the last 50m of her race was faster than Ryan Lochte’s split in the same event. The performance was so extraordinary that it immediately drew suspicion from pundits who claimed that such dramatic improvement in personal best times could only be the result of doping. However, the much more likely scenario is that the athlete’s still-growing body accounted for the dramatic reduction in her personal best time since competing in the 2010 Asian Championships.
8. Kayla Harrison Wins Gold Medal in Judo
Kayla Harrison’s career-defining performance in the Women’s 78kg Judo Final completed the athlete’s story of individual perseverance as well as lifted the hopes of USA Judo as Harrison’s 2-0 victory over Britain’s Gemma Gibbons finally gave the United States the gold medal that had eluded them for so long.
9. Women’s Soccer Semifinal (USA vs. Canada)
We couldn’t pick just one moment from this epic match between these North American powerhouses in what was arguably the best team match of these Olympics so far. Christine Sinclair’s determined performance kept the underdog Canadian team in the game scoring all three goals for her squad. The United States’ Megan Rapinoe went toe-to-toe with Sinclair, scoring two goals of her own in the match and setting up the indirect penalty kick in the 79th minute that ultimately sent the game into extra time.
The most iconic moment would come in the third and final minute of injury time that had been added on to extra time, as U.S. striker Alex Morgan converted a 6-yard header on a long cross from Heather O’Reilly to give the U.S. a 4-3 win and a trip to the finals against Japan. With this victory, the U.S. will meet Japan in a highly-anticipated rematch of the 2011 World Cup Final. (UPDATE: The U.S. beat Japan in the Olympic women's soccer final Thursday 2-1, avenging their 2011 World Cup loss and bringing home the gold for the third straight time.)
10. Kimberly Rhode Becomes First Athlete to Win Medals for an Individual Event in Five Consecutive Olympics
This is the top moment from the London Games that you’ve probably never heard of. Kimberly Rhode equaled a world record, shooting 99 out of 100 clays en route to a gold medal in skeet shooting. Her victory marks the first time that any athlete has ever won individual medals in five separate Olympics.
-by Eric Chalifour