Kayla Harrison, Manteo Mitchell, Oscar Pistorious, and Other London 2012 Unsung Heroes
Yes, it's been a week since the London Olympics ended. But I don't know about you 'Shark Week.' It just isn't cutting it for me. With a presidential campaign season just about firing on all cylinders and heated politics right around the corner, lots of folks (including myself) miss the spirit, movement, and glory of the Games. In honor of one of the best Olympics ever, here are twelve great stories from London:
12. Brownlee Brothers Take Gold, Bronze: Alistair (24) and Jonny Brownlee (22) of West Yorkshire, England had always dreamt of crossing the line together in the triathlon at the Olympics. When Jonny was hit with a 15-second penalty on a technicality in his changeover between the swimming and cycling, it seemed his chance at a medal was gone. Leading from the front, Alistar set out a blistering pace on the first two laps of the 10k run, lengthening his lead from the pack and carrying only his brother and world champion Javier Gomez with him. This tactic, which Jonny and Alistair had discussed during the cycling ride, allowed for Jonny to take his penalty and still win bronze, while his older brother strode out for the gold in the 0.9-mile swimming, 26.7-mile biking, and 6.2-mile running event—the first medals ever for Team GB in the triathlon. The brothers have shared seven podiums in major international events together, and became the first siblings to win an Olympic medal in the same event since the Searle brothers did in the men's eight in 1992.
11. Greatest Women's Soccer Match and a Third Consecutive Gold: The United States' women's soccer team was expected to run over the Canadians en route to a fourth gold medal—but they didn't go out quietly. In the semi-final round of the tournament, Canadian forward Christine Sinclair scored a hat rick, each one unanswered by the Americans. After American Abby Wambach put the U.S. ahead, converting on a controversial penalty kick in the 80th minute, young soccer star Alex Morgan stepped up to the plate, heading in a miracle goal on a cross by Heather O'Reilly with 30 seconds left in the second session of extra-time. This semi-final game is seen by many as the greatest women's soccer match ever played. The U.S. would go on to win their third consecutive gold medal by beating Japan three days later.
10. Serena Completes 'Golden Slam': Serena Williams, for the first time in her storied career, won a gold medal in women's tennis singles at the Olympics. The 30-year-old also became the first person ever to win the 'golden slam'—each slam title (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open) and the Olympic gold in one year—not just in singles, but in doubles as well. If that's not considered perfection in tennis, I don't know what is. Williams is, without a doubt, still at the top of her game, especially after demolishing Maria Sharapova 6-0, 6-1 in the singles finals—a match that only lasted 63 minutes and included 10 aces from Williams.
9. Rudisha Runs to WR in the 800m: David Rudisha's father, Daniel, always dreamed of winning a gold medal at the Olympics. However, the only medal the 400m runner ever won was silver as part of the Kenyan 4x400m relay team at the 1968 Games in Mexico. His son, David, in arguably the greatest 800m race ever, did what his father couldn't by winning gold in the 800m at London in a true spectacle of dominance. Rudisha brought the best out of his beaten opponents in the process, lowering his own world record (1:40.91) and leading a pack of eight under 1:44 and five under 1:43 for the first time ever. With all respect to sprinter Usian Bolt of Jamaica, Rudisha's dominance in the 800m is like any other.
8. Murray Takes Down Goliath at Home: Brit Andy Murray had quite the disappointing tennis season in 2012. After multiple finals losses, he finally won at Wimbledon for the first time, defeating arguably the greatest tennis player of all time, Roger Federer, to earn his first Olympic gold medal. Murray and Federer were previously tied 8-8 in the 16 times they had previously met—with Federer winning each of the Grand Slam finals they had competeted against eachother in—but this time, it was Murray's match to win. He became the first British Olympian to win gold in men's tennis singles since Josiah Ritchie in 1908, winning in straight sets.
7. Mitchell Breaks Leg, Finishes Race: As a member of the 2012 IAAF World Indoor Champion U.S. 4x00m relay team, Manteo Mitchell was determined to show the world that Team USA could win gold in London. Things didn’t go totally as planned, however. As the lead off leg for the U.S. in the 4x400m relay qualification round, Mitchell broke his left fibula, 200m into the race. In arguably the most valiant effort at the London Olympics, he finished his portion of the relay. Mitchell somehow got the baton to teammate Josh Mance, splitting a 46.1 second 400m, and helping the U.S. Team qualify for the final. Sadly, the U.S. team finished behind the Bahamas in the final, without Mitchell. His relentlessness, however, was a testament to the Olympic Spirit.
6. Sexual Abuse Trauma Trumped, Harrison Wins First Judo Gold: After beating Britain’s Gemma Gibbons to acquire the first gold medal ever for the United States Olympic judo team, Kayla Harrison took a moment to think things over. Normally, this would be an amazing feat in and of itself—winning your country’s first gold medal in a sport at the Olympics—but there’s more to the story than just what meets the eye. Throughout her career, Harrison contemplated suicide several times due to sexual abuse she endured by her childhood judo coach. She overcame all odds against her to become an Olympic champion—an accomplishment that is a true inspiration to those facing adversity.
4. Bolt Strikes Thrice: Many questioned if Usain Bolt had the willpower to compete as well as he did in the 2008 Beijing Olympics after losing to his countryman Yohan Blake in both the 100m and the 200m and the Jamaican Trials in June. He proved everyone wrong and became an Olympic legend at the London Games for repeating gold medal performances in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay. Bolt anchored the 4x100m relay team which became the first to ever dip below the 37-second mark, finishing in world record fashion. Some still believe Bolt had the potential to break all three world records at the Games, but regardless, there’s no doubt London made him one of the greatest runners in the history.
3. Douglas Dominates Gymnastics: Gabby Douglas won gold medals in both the individual and team all-around competitions. She became the first gymnast of African decent in Olympic history to become the individual all-around champion, in addition to becoming the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the Olympics. “The Flying Squirrel” began training for gymnastics at the age of six when she moved to Des Moines, Iowa to be coached by the renowned Liang Chow. After a long road of training and homesickness, Douglas made history in London, becoming arguably the greatest American gymnast ever.
2. No Legs, No Problem: Oscar Pistorious of South Africa. 25-year-old sprinter became the first amputee to compete at the Olympics. After winning a ballet for Paralympians in 2008, the Court of Arbitration gave him the right to compete in the Olympics as they found his carbon-fiber artificial limbs didn’t over any advantage over able-bodied athletes. Pistorious found a way to run competitively with his double below-knee amputation, and participated in the 400m and 4x400m relay sprints. In one of the most awe inspiring moments of the Games, Pistorious exchanged bibs with future 400m gold medal winner Kirani James of Grenada at the end of his 400m semifinal heat; a truly amazing moment of sportsmanship and respect. Although Pistorious didn’t make the finals in the 400m, his participation represents a new chapter in sports history and proof that even disabilities cannot hinder determination and inspiration.
1. Phelps Legacy Lives On: Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time by winning his 18th career gold and 22nd medal overall, eclipsing Russian gymnast Larisa Latynaina who had set the record with 18 back in 1964. In the 200m butterfly (historically his most dominant event) Phelps lost to a 20-year-old South African named Chad le Clos, a swimmer who decided when he was 12 years old, watching Phelps win gold in Athens, that he wanted to be just like him. 8 years later, he beat his swimming idol and the torch was passed—a sign that the Phelps era is now over, but also a sign his legacy will be live on forever (Phelps would later get final redemption, beating the newcomer in the 100m butterfly).
Bonus: Yang Hak-seon won South Korea’s first ever gold medal in gymnastics in London, taking the top spot in the men’s vault finals. Yang had been living in sheer poverty with his parents for years. The family lived in a shack made of thin wooden boards and plastic sheeting in rural South Korea, but nobody knew—not the Korea Gymnastic Association, not the media, and not even his coach. Yet, this guy managed to overcome economic troubles and train hard enough to reach the pinnacle of his sport. The chairman of LG donated about $444,000 to the 20-year-old, a construction company has vowed to build him an apartment estimated at $190,000, and the chairman of the Korean Gymnastic Association has personal given him $88,000.
Saudi Arabian women are unable to drive, vote, and leave the house without a male companion in their home country. Sarah Attar competed in the 800m, and although she finished a whole lap behind her competitors in the qualifying round, this time it wasn’t about her finish, it was about the fact she competed. Things are hopefully changing for the better in Saudi Arabia.