The Moments That Defined Us
FIRST U.S. MEDAL
U.S. archers Jake Kaminski, Jacob Wukie and Brady Ellison could only watch in the closing seconds of the men’s team competition. If Italy hit a bull’s eye, they would take the gold; if not, the Americans would leave London as Olympic champions. The Italian archer hit a 10, but silver medals were just as shiny for the Americans. Not only was it Team USA’s first Olympic medal of the London 2012 Games, but the second-place finished marked the first Olympic medal for USA Archery since 2000. “This is the best feeling I’ve ever known,” said first-time Olympian Kaminski. “We came over here to shoot very well. We shot the best we possibly could.”
Men’s 74 kg. freestyle wrestler Jordan Burroughs cashed in on his gold medal guarantees. The reigning world champion put together four successful matches and beat Iran’s Sadegh Goudarzi in the championship match, 1-0, 1-0. The 24-year-old first-time Olympian won his 38th consecutive match and started the three-day men’s freestyle wrestling competition with a gold medal for the U.S. “This has been a long time coming,” he said after hugging his mom in the stands. “I’ve trained for a number of years, dreamed for a number of years and got it done. I executed perfectly and I’m an Olympic champ.” Burroughs hasn’t lost a tournament since 2009.
Gabby Douglas captured the nation’s heart when she became the first American to win two of the most coveted awards in gymnastics. First, she led the U.S. women – dubbed the “Fierce Five” – to their first team gold since 1996. Then, she took home the individual all-around, becoming the first-ever U.S. athlete to win gold in both the team and individual all-around events. It was an improbable rise to stardom for the 16-year-old bubbly Virginia native, who overtook 2011 world champion Jordyn Wieber as the top American gymnast and will now be featured on a Kellogg’s cereal box.
The U.S. earned its first gold medal in the sport of judo when Kayla Harrison defeated Great Britain’s Gemma Gibbons in the 78kg. division in front of a home crowd waving hundreds of Union Jacks, Harrison won the match with a pair of yukos, then fell into the embrace of her coach, Jimmy Pedro, who helped her regain confidence after suffering from abuse. “I hope it changes the sport of judo,” the 22-year-old said. “I hope that little kids sign up, and I hope that they want to be the next Kayla Harrison or the next Travis Stevens or the next Marti Malloy. I hope we have a lot of success in the future with American judo.”
Michael Phelps has always lived up to the Olympic motto, “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” and now, he officially retires as an Olympic legend. The most decorated Olympian of all-time, Phelps took home six medals to set a new Olympic record with 22 on his career. Dubbed “the greatest Olympian of all time,” Phelps capped his final campaign with four golds and two silvers. “I’ve been able to do everything I’ve wanted,” Phelps said after touching the Olympic wall one last time in the U.S. men’s 4x100-meter medley victory. “I’ve been able to put my mind to the goals I wanted to achieve, and (Coach) Bob (Bowman) and I have been able to somehow manage to do every single thing.”
Winning one Olympic medal is an outstanding accomplishment. To win an individual medal at five consecutive Olympic Games is a feat that belongs to just one American: Kim Rhode. The California native became the first individual U.S. athlete to win a medal in five consecutive Olympic Games. She tied a world record to capture the gold medal in the women’s skeet competition and continued a streak that has been in place since her debut at the Atlanta Games. Although it would be difficult to continue the historic streak and improve on her near-perfect 99-of-100 mark from London, Rhode insists the end is not in sight. “I can definitely do this for many years,” said Rhode. “I am looking towards Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and I have many more under my belt.”
As a sport still in its youth made its Olympic debut in London, perhaps it was fitting that a 17-year-old won gold in the women’s boxing middleweight division. Or perhaps it was just fitting that it was Claressa Shields, an athlete who personifies hard work and toughness. Shields defeated Nadezda Torlopova of Russia, 19-12, to become the second-youngest fighter ever to win gold in either men’s or women’s boxing. Shields grew up in a tough neighborhood in Flint, Mich., and found sanctuary in the boxing gym. “All I wanted was a gold medal,” Shields said. “And I kept working towards it, even when people were saying I couldn’t do it...I proved them all wrong.”
Serena Williams has won just about everything in her career: 14 major singles championships and 13 major doubles championships. However, there was one thing that was missing from her collection: an Olympic gold in singles. Not anymore; not after the way she played in London. Williams dominated Maria Sharapova, 6-0, 6-1, in just 63 minutes to win her long-awaited gold medal. Williams surrendered only 17 games en route to the podium. She joins Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal as the only athletes to ever win the career Golden Slam (all four majors and Olympic gold). A day later, Williams continued her dominance with sister Venus Williams as they won the women’s doubles gold. The sisters didn’t drop a set through their five matches. It was a golden finish for what was truly a golden tournament for Serena Williams.
The U.S. women’s 4x100-meter team – consisting of Allyson Felix, Tianna Madison, Carmelita Jeter and Bianca Knight – won the gold medal and proved to the world that Usain Bolt was not the only athlete capable of smashing records. The time of 40.82 run by the women in the 4x100 broke a 27-year-old record held by East Germany. “For so long, we’ve looked at women’s sprints and records have been so out of reach,” said Felix. “So to look up and see that we had a world record, it was just crazy. You don’t think anything like that will ever happen.” When Jeter saw they had broken the record, she continued to sprint through the line in celebration. “As I crossed the finish line I just had so many emotions,” said Jeter. “We had just made history.”
Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Tamika Catchings became three-time gold medalists as the U.S. defeated France, 86-50, in the championship. The fifth consecutive gold medal is the longest Olympic championship streak for a women’s team sport. The margin of victory was the largest in a women’s gold medal game, surpassing the 104-73 Soviet Union victory over Bulgaria in 1980. Candace Parker came off the bench to score 21 points in 21 minutes and 21 seconds of playing time. Taurasi and Bird formed one-third of the group that had played for Coach Geno Auriemma at the University of Connecticut. “There’s really no better feeling,” Taurasi said as she sat next to Auriemma. “I wouldn’t want to be up here with anyone else.”
WOMEN’S BEACH VOLLEYBALL
The dominant U.S. duo of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings set a record by winning a third straight gold medal in London, after having been the champions in both Athens and Beijing. The gold-medal match pitted the American duo against fellow U.S. pairing of Jennifer Kessy and April Ross, but ultimately it was the veteran team that prevailed, winning 21-16, 21-16 in 36 minutes. “We’ve been walking around the stadium saying it feels like an out-of-body experience,” May-Treanor, who plans to retire, said that night. May-Treanor and Walsh entered the tournament seeded third and finished their third Olympic campaign with a perfect 7-0 slate. The duo owns a 42-1 overall record in Olympic sets.
It only took about 10 seconds for Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee to add themselves to the history books. Setting a world record of 10.35 in the 100-meter, Eaton began the competition in first place, while Hardee was second, and the duo never looked back. Eaton entered the final two events with a commanding 222 lead over Hardee, who then all but guaranteed his silver-medal finish with a season-best javelin throw of 66.65 meters. When Eaton finished with 8,869 points and Hardee with 8,671, they became the first U.S. pair to take gold and silver in the decathlon since 1956. “As the days, weeks, months, years pass, Ashton and I will look back on this and realize how special it really is and what this really meant,” Hardee said.
The U.S. women’s diving team had not medaled since 2000 and the men’s drought was even longer, dating back to 1996. That all changed in London. Not only was the streak broken, but it was done in style – three medals in the first three competitions. Kelci Bryant and Abby Johnston took silver in women’s synchronized 3-meter springboard, David Boudia and Nick McCrory won bronze in the men’s synchronized 10-meter platform, and Kristian Ipsen and Troy Dumais won bronze in the men’s synchronized 3-meter springboard. That spring boarded a grand finale for the team, as Boudia won gold in the 10-meter platform on the final day of diving competition. It was the first men’s gold medal on platform since Greg Louganis in 1988.
It’s one thing to build a championship dynasty, it’s another to be undefeated on the world stage for seven straight years. With a gold medal at the London Games, the women’s eight – consisting of Mary Whipple, Caryn Davies, Caroline Lind, Eleanor Logan, Meghan Musnicki, Taylor Ritzel, Esther Lofgren, Susan Francia, and Erin Cafaro – continued a historic run that includes five straight world championships and two straight Olympic gold medals. The U.S. took gold in 6:10.59, approximately two seconds over the second-place boat from Canada. “That is an American dynasty baby,” said Francia. “It’s just so special.”
Avenging last year’s penalty shootout defeat in the FIFA Women’s World Cup to Japan could not have been any sweeter for the U.S. women’s soccer team. Led by two goals from Carli Lloyd and stellar play by goal keeper Hope Solo, the U.S. defeated Japan 2-1 to reemerge as the most dominant program in the world. After going 6-0 throughout the entire tournament, the U.S. took home its third consecutive women’s soccer gold medal. “Everything that’s happened up until now doesn’t matter because it’s all part of the process,” said Abby Wambach. “The fact that we’re Olympic champions means that we all committed to one central idea. That idea was believing in each other.” The 80, 203 exuberant fans in attendance at the fabled Wembley Stadium broke the previous record for a women’s Olympic match, set in Atlanta in 1996.
TRACK & FIELD (Aug. 8)
If there was any doubt of the U.S. dominance on the track during the 2012 Games, all debate ceased on Aug. 8. Team USA hauled in seven medals, the most in one day since winning nine on Aug. 6, 1992, in Barcelona. In 90 minutes, Americans won three of four possible golds and seven of 12 possible overall medals. Among the first-place finishers were Aries Merritt in the 110-meter hurdles, Brittney Reese in the long jump and Allyson Felix in the 200. To add to the specialness, two of the golds were the first for the U.S. in over 15 years – Merritt was the first U.S. winner in the hurdles since 1996 and Felix the first in the 200 since 1992. Carmelita Jeter also made history in the 200 with bronze, making her the first U.S. athlete to take medals in both the 100 and 200 since 1988. In the 110 hurdles and the long jump, Jason Richardson and Janay DeLoach both earned bronze to cap the historic night.
WOMEN’S WATER POLO
In its third appearance in the final game since women’s water polo made its Olympic debut in 2000, the U.S. was finally able to add the gold to its medal collection. Led by Maggie Steffens’ five goals on five shots, the Americans defeated Spain, 8-5, to win the title. Four-time Olympians Heather Petri and Brenda Villa, who each recorded one goal on three shots a piece in the final, will now retire with the gold. “I am speechless, it still hasn’t sunk in,” Villa said shortly after the victory. “There are no words to explain how I’m feeling, but it means the world to me. It’s the end of a journey and I got my fairytale ending.