The London 2012 Olympics are over, and I am sad to see it end. I have been a fan of the Olympics ever since I was a little girl. I even love the Winter Olympics, though not as much as the Summer Games. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always been fascinated by sports, as much for the beauty of competition as for the psychology of what it takes to put oneself out there, game after game, match after match, risking defeat and injury for the sake of a single victory. Watching the best athletes in the world – people who train for years, for one shot at glory – is inspiring.
These Olympics featured so many great performances, and so many great stories. Below is a list of my favorite Olympic moments:
In her quest for gold, Serena Williams played tennis as well as I’ve ever seen her play – as well as I’ve ever seen any woman play. Her focus and determination were unmatched in either the men’s or the women’s draw. That she and her sister Venus also won the gold medal in women’s doubles was icing on an already pretty sweet cake. Coupled with her Wimbledon title, Serena should be the clear favorite to win again at the U.S. Open later this month. (As for the idiotic criticism she received for her post-medal happy dance, that will be the subject of a future post.)
I’ve already commented about Gabby Douglas’ historic achievement, becoming the first African-American gymnast to win the All-Around, and her contributions to Team USA’s gold medal performance. Those medals were followed by McKayla Maroney’s silver medal in the vault – and her own “not impressed” Internet meme. Then Aly Raisman won two more medals – a bronze in floor exercise, and a gold medal for balance beam. I cheered for those girls like they were my own daughters. They electrified a nation and made us all proud.
Whether or not 22 medals earned over three Olympics – including 18 gold medals – makes Phelps the “greatest Olympian” is debatable, but he is clearly one of the best swimmers – if not the best – the sport has ever seen. When he said, in an NBC interview, that at age 27, he had been swimming competitively for 20 years, I wished NBC had cued Michael Jackson’s “Childhood.” After starting his Olympic Games by losing to his rival Ryan Lochte and failing to medal, Phelps seemed to relax and enjoy London. The guy everyone said was done after that initial loss went on to win six medals, four of them gold.
I love Usain Bolt. I love his unwavering self-confidence, his swagger, his fun-loving personality before and after a race, and his all-business demeanor when the gun sounds. For all the talk of Bolt’s “clowning,” it is clear that he takes his sport very seriously. Bolt’s dominance in the 100m and 200m is beautiful to watch. He has earned the right to call himself a legend. Some have said Bolt will be “past his prime” by the time of the 2016 Rio Olympics, but with training and dedication, as long as Bolt can remain relatively healthy (he has long contended with back problems), he should still be a force in 2016.
A special shout-out goes to Great Britain’s Mo Farah, who won gold in the 5000m and 10,000m races. Farah’s 5000m race was particularly impressive. After determining that the pace was too slow, Farah took the lead and never gave it up. His sprint in the final lap to maintain his lead was Bolt-level impressive. Farah even had his own dance, the “MoBot,” which Bolt playfully imitated before the Jamaican men set a new world record in the 4×100 relay. So much fun to watch.
Beautiful bodies, lovely personalities, terrific results. While the Jamaican men owned the 100m, 200m and 400m events, USA women held their own against the Jamaican stars. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce beat Allyson Felix in the 100m, but Felix made up for it by beating Fraser-Pryce in the 200m. Sanya Richards-Ross won gold in the 400m. And Team USA blew away the field in the 4x100m and 4x400m relays, setting a world record in the 4×100 and a new U.S. record in the 4×400. US women also won medals in events like the pole vault, the long jump, and the hurdles. They represented their nation in the best possible way. (And those abs!)
6. Olympic moms
Procter & Gamble has received well-deserved praise for its “Olympic Moms” tributes to the mothers of Olympic athletes. Many of the Olympic athletes are themselves mothers. A feature of silver medal hurdler Lashinda Demus focused on how she suffered post-partum depression and struggled to return to top form after the birth of her twin boys – and then we saw her twins in the stands, cheering her on. During the track & field events, NBC’s track & field commentators Tom Hammond, Dwight Stones and Ato Boldon noted the women athletes with children, and this Yahoo slideshow features U.S. Olympic athletes who are moms. It would be great to see a similar slideshow all of the moms who competed in the London Games, from all countries. We celebrate celebrity moms who drop their baby weight. Elite women athletes who return to form and compete after giving birth are, for me, even more impressive.
The Summer Olympics will be held in Rio in 2016. I plan to be there. Whether as paid correspondent or lucky fan, I’m doing it.