LONDON (Reuters) - The London Olympics were packed with sporting highlights, personal dramas and emotional highs and lows. Here are 20 golden moments from the Games.
Michael Phelps bows out with a record medal haul
With a lop-sided smile of satisfaction, the greatest of swimmers and possibly the greatest Olympian of all time, said farewell with one last immense performance for the U.S. relay team in the men’s 4x100m medley. Final tally: 18 career golds, 22 medals. He had done everything he set out to achieve. The world of swimming has lost a titan of the pool.
Usain Bolt wins (and wins and wins)
The world’s fastest man and his Jamaica relay team mates provided three of the enduring moments of the Games. The showman opened his campaign with a Games record in the 100 meters, followed up by becoming the first man to retain his titles in the 100 and 200m - where Jamaica finished 1-2-3 - and then anchored the 4x100 relay to a world record time.
The moment where Bolt and Yohan Blake caught each others’ eyes as they crossed the finish line in the 200, with the winner putting his finger to his lips to silence the young pretender, was a classic moment of theatre.
Andy Murray winning tennis gold at Wimbledon
Murray had been reduced to tears when he lost the Wimbledon men’s singles final to Roger Federer in July but he took his revenge by thrashing the Swiss on Centre Court in an astonishing performance from a man who has yet to win a grand slam tournament. The memory of the Scot leaping into the crowd to celebrate with his nearest and dearest will linger long.
Mo Farah wins 5,000 and 10,000 meters gold
Even Bolt was moved to do the ‘Mobot’, the M-shaped hands-on-head gesture after Farah’s 5,000m win. Mogadishu-born but proudly British, Farah’s feat was hailed as the greatest in the country’s athletic history. The first Briton to win a long-distance gold, he was only the seventh man to do the Olympic 5,000/10,000 double. A golden memory will be the spine-tingling roar of the crowd and the sight of Farah, flag around his shoulders, embracing his daughter after winning.
U.S. women win 4x100 meters relay gold
The last three Olympics had been a comedy of errors for the women’s team, with botched baton exchanges keeping them off the top of the podium track, but they got their act together in style this time. Their record, a sizzling 40.82 seconds, smashed the world mark of 41.37 set by the old East Germany in 1985.
Saudi Arabia’s first female athlete
The kingdom sent female athletes to a Games for the first time, ensuring every country competing was represented by both sexes. Judoka Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani, a painfully shy teenager with no international experience and wearing an ill-fitting suit and headcovering, made a brave debut in front of a global audience of millions. She lasted only 80 seconds but won plenty of applause nonetheless.
Nicola Adams wins first women’s boxing gold
After years of battling for Olympic inclusion, female fighters finally had their moment. The first to take gold in the ring was 29-year-old British flyweight Nicola Adams whose previous jobs included tiling and working as an extra in television shows. The gold won, she looked forward to a chicken dinner. The Irish crowd cheering Katie Taylor to lightweight gold sent decibel counters off the scale.
David Rudisha wins the 800 meters
The Kenyan’s world record-breaking time was hailed by Games chairman Seb Coe as the standout performance of the Olympics. Certainly, anyone there that night will never forget the sight of him streaking away from gun to tape to win in one minute 40.91 seconds. A dazzling, unbelievable show of strength.
The Flying Squirrel
President Barack Obama wants to meet her, Oprah Winfrey shed ‘happy tears’ for her and her surname is an anagram of ‘USA Gold’. America fell in love with gymnast Gabby Douglas, the ‘Flying Squirrel’ who became the first African American to win an Olympic title in the women’s individual all-round event.
Kirani James and Oscar Pistorius
James’s 400 meters gold was the first Olympic medal for Grenada but equally memorable was the moment after the semi-final heat when he and South African ‘Blade Runner’ Oscar Pistorius, the first double amputee to compete on the track at a Games, exchanged name bibs. “He’s an inspiration for all of us,” said James. “It’s an honor competing against that guy. What he does takes a lot of courage. he’s a great individual and it’s time we see him like that and not anything else.”
Niger’s ‘Sculling Sloth’
Hamadou Djibo Issaka emerged as an unlikely hero who won near-cult status, if nothing else, on the rowing course. Some 20,000 spectators rose to their feet to cheer him to the finish as he lagged the field by 300 meters on a 2,000 meter course. “I don’t have any technique,” he told reporters. “I’ve been learning only three months.”
Photo finish in women’s triathlon
After one hour 59 minutes and 48 seconds of swimming, cycling and running, Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig and Sweden’s Lisa Norden crossed the line together. It took a photo-finish to separate them. The men’s race also stood out for the sight of British winner Alistair Brownlee winning gold and shaking hands with Spanish silver medalist Javier Gomez while both were sprawled on the floor at the finish.
The opening ceremony and cauldron
Seven teenagers, in keeping with the Games motto of ‘Inspire a generation’, lit 200-plus copper petals which then rose on stalks to form the single burning flower of a cauldron. It was a dramatic finale to a musical celebration of British history and culture that also starred 86-year-old Queen Elizabeth in her first acting role alongside James Bond actor Daniel Craig. The moment of realization that it was really her, turning from her desk to say “Good evening, Mr Bond”, was delicious.
Jessica Ennis and ‘Super Saturday’
The second Saturday was the day when the London Games really took off for the host nation, with a gold rush after a slow start, but the signs had been there on Friday. The roar when heptathlon queen Jessica Ennis started her 100m hurdles heat on the first morning of athletics was spine-tingling and set the tone for what was to follow.
South Korea’s women archers
Ki Bo-bae, Lee Sung-jin and Choi Hyeon-ju beat China by a point to win the women’s team title for the seventh consecutive Games. The images of archery at Lord’s cricket ground were also stunning. “Lord‘s, 200 years old, we really like it here, Can we keep it?” said the tournament announcer.
Ye Shiwen breaks a world record
The 16-year-old Chinese swimmer won two golds in London but her smashing of the 400 meters individual medley world record, with a time five seconds faster than her personal best, was astonishing. Suggestions from a top American coach that it was, in fact, altogether unbelievable and might be a result of banned substances triggered a firestorm in China where many saw the accusations as biased and racist.
Kiprotich wins the men’s marathon
A huge crowd packed the streets of central London to see Kiprotich win Uganda’s first medal of the Games. Running side by side with Kenya’s world champion Abel Kirui and Wilson Kipsang, the 23-year-old shook off his rivals and crossed the finish line draped in his national flag. He was Uganda’s first gold medalist since John Akii-Bua 40 years ago in the 400m hurdles.
Ruben Limardo’s fencing gold medal
The winner of Venezuela’s first gold medal in 44 years charmed London and beyond by wearing his medal on the capital’s underground system, posing for photos with passengers and teaching them Venezuelan sports chants. His country’s grateful president gave him a replica of the sword used by South American independence hero Simon Bolivar.
Tears of Hoy
The ‘Hoy Wonder’ that is Chris Hoy shed tears of joy after winning his sixth Olympic cycling gold to become Britain’s most decorated Olympian. “I‘m in shock,” he said. “I‘m trying to take it all in, but this is surreal. It is what I always wanted.”
South Korean sit-in
A weeping Shin A-lam staged a one-hour protest and had to be physically escorted off the fencing piste after her controversial elimination from the epee semi-final. The sight of the 25-year-old looking dejected as she sat on a spot-lit piste, pristine in her white uniform with a towel draped over her shoulder, was an indelible image.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Peter Millership and Jason Neely