Spanning 19 days, the 2012 Summer Olympics brought the best athletes from 204 nations to London to compete in front of a global audience. 85 of those 204 — from Afghanistan to Venezuela — earned a total of 962 medals. Over 10,000 athletes participated in 302 events in 26 different sports.
For the fifth consecutive Summer Olympics, no country earned more medals than the United States, which led the world with 104. The USA had the most gold (46), most silver (29) and second-most bronze (29) of any country. In fact, the USA ended the Games with more medals than the bottom 165 countries combined.
After China topped the U.S. in gold medals in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing by a count of 51-36, this year served as redemption for the Americans. And aside from China’s 38 gold medals falling short of the USA’s tally, the nation was involved in the most bizarre scandal of the Olympics: throwing a badminton match.
China’s top-seeded women’s doubles badminton team of Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang were expelled from competition after a preliminary match against South Korea. This was after Olympic officials determined that the duo intentionally lost so they would not have to face China’s second-best team of Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei until the finals.
A total of four women’s doubles badminton teams were expelled for trying to improve their chances once the competition advanced to a knockout stage. So when Tian and Zhao won the gold for China, some Olympic fans felt that the scandal tarnished the country’s win.
Michael Phelps was guilty of tainting his image after his dominance in Beijing, and it made people wonder whether he would compete at the same level in London. Phelps’ first event was not a great start for the swimmer. He failed to medal in the 400-meter individual medley, in which fellow countryman Ryan Lochte took the gold.
The USA 4×100-meter relay team, which included Phelps and Lochte, disappointingly claimed a silver medal, as France earned the gold by 0.45 seconds. South Africa’s Chad le Clos also edged out Phelps in the 200-meter butterfly, perhaps serving as karma for the American’s victory by a fingertip in the same event in Beijing.
The repeated failure on a global level, which Phelps had never previously encountered, seemed to fuel him, as he won gold in his final four events: The 4×200-meter freestyle relay, 200-meter individual medley, 100-meter butterfly and 4×100 medley relay. Phelps finished his Olympic career with 18 gold medals and 22 total medals — both records —putting himself in the discussion for greatest athlete of all time.
Katie Ledecky isn’t necessarily in that conversation, but give her a break; she is barely old enough to be the greatest athlete of her high school. The 15-year old swimmer, the youngest athlete in the USA contingent, won the gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle by four seconds and set an American record in the event.
Ledecky was just one of the many female athletes from the U.S. to make a name for herself in London. The U.S. women won 58 of the country’s 104 total medals, including 29 of the 46 gold medals.
The U.S. women’s basketball team cruised to its seventh gold medal since 1976, and the women’s soccer team avenged their loss to Japan in the 2011 World Cup. Meanwhile, notable individual performances included Missy Franklin’s four gold medals in the pool and Allyson Felix’s three on the track.
Coming into the Olympics, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team of Gabrielle Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber were lauded as the best the country had seen since the “Magnificent Seven” won team gold in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
The “Fierce Five” did not disappoint in London, winning a team gold medal to go along with four medals in individual events. Douglas became the first African American to win all-around gymnastic gold, Raisman earned a gold in floor exercise and a bronze in beam, and Maroney won silver in vault, although according to a picture of her that went viral online, she may not have been too satisfied with the result.
The standard for U.S. athletes is so high that they are actually disappointed when they do not win gold. In the Olympics, it is always nice to see athletes, from various countries, who may appreciate their medals more than others.
Andy Murray, men’s singles tennis player from the U.K., won the country’s first-ever gold medal in the event by defeating rival Roger Federer of Switzerland. The final match was played on Centre Court, the same arena where Murray lost to Federer in the Wimbledon finals just a month earlier.
With Murray winning gold in men’s tennis singles, it prevented Novak Djokovic, Serbia’s flag bearer and most well-known athlete, from bringing home the country’s first gold medal in history. Who would have thought that Milica Mandic, competing in women’s 67+-kilogram taekwondo, would win Serbia’s first-ever gold as a No. 7 seed, defeating the top three seeds in the world en route to victory?
One of the most touching moments in the Olympics was also one that many may have overlooked. Pandelela Rinong of Malaysia made history in many ways for herself and her country in the 2012 Olympics.
Rinong served as Malaysia’s first female flag bearer and became the first female from her country ever to earn a medal when she won bronze in the women’s 10-meter platform. In an interview conducted next to the pool right after the results were final, Rinong spoke in broken English: “I am proud to be Malaysian.”
But perhaps no one is prouder of his nationality than Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, who was crowned “Fastest Man in the World” for the second consecutive Olympics. Bolt won gold in all three events in which he competed: The 100-meter, 200-meter and 4×100-meter relay as a part of the Jamaican team. Bolt set an Olympic record in the 100-meter, even though he relaxed as he neared the finish line.
In an incredible feat, all three spots on the podium for the men’s 200-meter were Jamaican. Bolt won gold, Yohan Blake won silver, and Warren Weir edged out American Wallace Spearmon Jr. for bronze. Having such dominance in an entire event is an astounding feat for a country that is only the size of Connecticut.
The Olympics are always an incredible spectacle because they bring together people from all over the world to compete in athletics at their highest level. It does not matter whether you are from Connecticut, South Africa or Malaysia. If you are good enough, you will get your chance to show the world what you’re made of.
But the most amazing part of the Olympics is that one moment when the athletes prove their worth. Some work their entire lives to compete in one event on the world’s biggest stage, and in an instant, it is over. If a baseball player strikes out, there is always another at-bat, but if a sprinter slips during a race, his entire career may have been for nothing.
Very rarely is there an athlete, such as Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt, who sustains such excellence for more than one Olympic Games. With Phelps’ announcement that these Olympics would be his last, and doubts that Bolt will repeat a third time on the track, there may be a vacancy for the Rio 2016 limelight. Who will it be? Only four years until we find out.