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London 2012’s top-10 sporting moments

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Story highlights

London 2012 Olympics come to a close after 16 days of sporting highlights

Usain Bolt wins three medals to equal his achievements of Beijing 2008

Team GB surpasses its targets by winning 65 medals, finishing third overall

Michael Phelps signs off as the most decorated Olympian, having won 22 medals

It is with good reason that Olympiads have a history reaching back thousands of years: the spectacle of watching the world’s greatest athletic talents go head-to-head is an awe-inspiring and captivating event, for spectators ancient and modern.

Olympic Park, London CNN —  

It is with good reason that Olympiads have a history reaching back thousands of years: the spectacle of watching the world’s greatest athletic talents go head-to-head is an awe-inspiring and captivating event, for spectators ancient and modern.

The Olympic Games have come to represent many things since Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s reinvention of the age-old gathering in 1896. Peace and harmony between countries, the redefinition of a host nation in the eyes of the world, the power of the individual to overcome challenge, the creation of a sport industry worth billions of dollars and the manners, morals and meaning that encompass the ‘Spirit’ of the event.

But such factors are centrifugal in nature compared to the core that gives the Games its energy: just as the fusion of hydrogen turning to helium gives solar power to the universe, it is the endeavor and execution of athletes that fuels the Olympics.

London 2012 has been no exception, even providing what some may argue was a vintage crop of sporting memories to add to the history books. Below, in no particular order, is this author’s take on the 10 that matter. Add your comments below if you feel there are moments that should have been included:

Lightning Bolt strikes thrice

It is difficult to quantify how much 25-year-old Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt means to athletics at this point in time. Some estimate that his deal with sports brand Puma alone is worth $10 million a year and that his earnings equate to 80% of all the money in global track and field.

Bolt leads Jamaica to world record

Usain Bolt
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Usain Bolt

While these figures can’t be accurately quantified, it’s fair to say they might be due to rise after his performances in London. Given his fame, Bolt had more pressure and scrutiny on his 6 foot 5 inch frame than any other athlete in the world. Not only did he manage to keep such distractions from affecting his track execution, he captured the hearts of Olympic Stadium spectators with his theatrics, camaraderie and heart-on-sleeve sense of fun and enthusiasm for his time in the limelight.

He set a new Olympic record of 9.63 seconds in the 100 meters and then won the 200m to become the first man to achieve a double sprint double. And then, on the last night of track competition, he anchored the Jamaican 4x100m team that set a new world record of 36.84 en route to gold – matching his achievement at Beijing 2008.

When he asked 80,000 people in the arena to start a “Mexican wave” and they obliged with gusto, it seemed like there was no limits to his talent.

The repetition of the triple-haul of golds he achieved in Beijing sealed Bolt’s legendary status on London, he now takes his place next to the likes of Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and Pele in the pantheon of sport’s all-time greats.

Photos: The sprint kings and queens

Hoy and GB’s cycling dominance

A key ingredient for any Games is for host nation athletes to capture the imagination of the home crowd by winning golds – it helps to give the venues an added atmosphere of expectation and elation as well as creating the cliched “feel good factor” among the domestic population.

Hoy becomes Britain’s greatest Olympian

Chris Hoy
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Chris Hoy

Team GB officials set themselves what many felt was an ambitious target of winning 48 medals and finishing fourth in the overall standings. The targets were smashed. And a key reason for the wave of winners that saw Team GB finish third overall with 65 medals was the dominance of its cyclists in the velodrome.

Led by 36-year-old Chris Hoy, the British team captured gold in seven out of the 10 track cycling events. Athletes such as Laura Trott, Victoria Pendleton, Jason Kenny and Philip Hindes combined to win 80% of the races Team GB entered, setting three world records on the way.

The golds in the men’s individual sprint, men’s team sprint, men’s keirin, women’s keirin, men’s team pursuit, women’s team pursuit and women’s omnium was a truly awesome achievement that helped make the velodrome one of the most vociferous venues at the Games.

Hoy – the flag bearer for his nation in the Opening Ceremony – picked up two gold medals in London, making him Britain’s most successful Olympian in history with six overall. Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said Hoy’s tears during his acceptance speech was his “defining moment of the Games.”

Hoy rules out Rio return

Outside of the track, mention must be made too of Bradley Wiggins, who clinched gold in the men’s individual time trial only 12 days after becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France.
Phelps the Great

If Bolt was the face who epitomized glory on the track, it was Michael Phelps who was the poster boy of the pool. Dubbed by Allison Schmitt, anchor of the U.S. women’s gold medal-winning medley relay team, as the “most famous man in the world,” the 27-year-old from Baltimore sealed his place as the greatest swimmer in history and the most successful Olympian of all time by winning his 18th career gold in London; his 22nd Games medal.

Olympic legend Phelps: ‘I’m done with swimming’

Michael Phelps
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Michael Phelps

Put simply, Phelps has won more medals as an individual than many nations in over 100 years of competition. These staggering accolades were attained with four golds (men’s 4x100m medley, men’s 100m butterfly, men’s 200m individual medley and men’s 4x200m freestyle relay) and two silvers (men’s 200m butterfly and men’s 4x100m freestyle relay) in the London Aquatic Centre.

Phelps’ consistency since making his Olympics debut in 2004 is unparalleled and all the more notable when dominant Beijing performers such as Rebecca Adlington struggled so notably to replicate her form of four years previous.

However, it was the manner in which the American conducted himself that resonated so widely, and bizarrely it was the victory of South Africa’s Chad Le Clos over Phelps in the men’s 200m butterfly that added so much to his renown. Phelps has long maintained that his career ambition was not to win golds but to “inspire” others, and by so heartily congratulating Le Clos – a 20-year-old inspired to swim by the performances of his hero in Beijing – he demonstrated magnanimity and the realization of his dream.

Zonderland raises the bar

Epke Zonderland may have been unknown to all but gymnastic aficionados prior to the Games, but his gravity-defying feats on the horizontal high bar have led many pundits to hail his performance as the “Comaneci” moment of London 2012.

Epke Zonderland
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Epke Zonderland

The 26-year-old who, rather unimaginatively, has been dubbed “The Flying Dutchman” won Holland’s first gold medal in gymnastics for 84 years with a display that wowed the crowds.

Pushed to greater heights by a competitive field which saw reigning Olympic champions Zou Kai of China set the pace with a difficulty level of 7.9 and a score of 16.366 before Germany’s Fabian Hambuchen upped the ante with 16.400, Zonderland pulled off a personal best and an unprecedented routine that culminated with the hardest release dismount – a Cassina to a Kovacs to a Kolman – possible in the discipline. Zonderland was awarded 16.533 points and a place in gymnastics folklore.

Rudisha smashes 800m world record

“My best moment was David Rudisha, just a spectacular performance. Bolt was good but this guy was just magnificent, from a different planet,” was the appraisal of Seb Coe, the chairman of the London 2012 Organizing Committee, after watching the men’s 800m final.

David Rudisha
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David Rudisha

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