Team USA’s athletes proved to be faster, higher and stronger in the pools, on the track and on the courts, but they also showed they have tremendous heart. All year long, but especially during the Olympic and Paralympic Games held this summer in London, athletes provided many moments that displayed their never-quit attitude and their ability to rebound when it seemed all hope of reaching their dreams was lost.
Here’s a look at some of the moments that inspired us this past year:
REBOUNDING TO LEAD TEAM TO GOLD
Perhaps one of the most inspiring stories of the London 2012 Olympic Games came with the fall and rise of gymnast Jordyn Wieber. Entering the Games as the reigning world all-around champion, Wieber was expected to be a gold-medal favorite in London. But in a stunning night of competition, Wieber finished fourth, but was third among the U.S. women and Olympic rules stipulate that only two athletes per country can make the all-around final. A teary-eyed Wieber valiantly rebounded two days later for the team competition and helped lead the “Fierce Five” to Team USA’s first Olympic gold medal since the “Magnificent Seven” won back in 1996.
DIVING FROM LAST TO FIRST
Diver David Boudia had come to London with high expectations but barely made it past the preliminary round for the 10-meter platform event in London. He earned the 18th (and last) qualifying spot for the final. But he made the most of it the next day to win the gold medal, marking the first time a U.S. man had won a gold medal in diving since 1992 and the first American man to strike gold in the 10-meter event since Greg Louganis did so in 1988.
RUNNING THROUGH A BROKEN LEG
You know it’s an inspiring moment when the President of the United States takes notice. Manteo Mitchell felt a pop in his leg midway through his preliminary run in the 4 x 400 relay. Turns out it was a broken left fibula and the biggest break of his track career. Even with a broken leg, Mitchell did not quit and when Team USA sprinted to a silver medal in the final, it was because of his fighting spirit that his teammates even got a chance to be on the starting block. When Team USA athletes visited The White House after the Games, Obama said Mitchell’s moment was “one of my favorite stories of the whole Olympics.”
SILVER END TO A SPEEDY RECOVERY
As if Mitchell’s story wasn’t inspiring enough for one relay, there was more drama in the 4 x 400 in London. That’s because American sprinter Bryshon Nellum, who had been shot in the leg by gang members in 2008, overcame surgeries and rehabilitation to reach the final of the 4 x 400 on the Olympic stage. Along with Josh Mance, Tony McQuay and Angelo Taylor, Nellum earned a silver medal. It was the first time since 1972 that Team USA did not earn a gold medal in the event (excluding the Moscow 1980 Olympic Games when the United States boycotted the Games) but Nellum was more than happy to take home a medal of any color. As a result, he was selected to be Team USA’s flag bearer for the Closing Ceremony.
BRINGING DISTANCE GLORY BACK TO U.S.
Although most of the crowd in London was cheering on the Somali-born British runner Mo Farah to gold in the 10K race, there was another runner who was garnering support on this side of the Atlantic: Galen Rupp. In fact, Farah and Rupp were cheering for each other as they are training partners. Farah took the gold and Rupp earned the silver to become the first U.S.Olympic medalist in the event since Billy Mills back in 1964. As Farah crossed the finish line, he turned back to look for Rupp, who was right behind him. The 1-2 men hugged. "I wouldn't be where I am today," Rupp told reporters, "without him."
REALIZING THE AMERICAN DREAM
Leo Manzano wrote some history of his own, becoming the first American to win a medal in the 1,500 since Jim Ryun in 1968. Both men earned Olympic silver medals. Manzano, who was born in Mexico and came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant, became a U.S. citizen in 2004. He competed in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games but four years later became an Olympic medalist. At the finish line he fell to his knees. Not because he was tired, he would later explain, but because he was so overcome with emotion.
OVERCOMING ABUSE TO MAKE JUDO HISTORY
Kayla Harrison’s journey to the gold medal in London was one of personal triumph. Having been sexually abused by her former judo coach, Harrison regained her confidence both personally and in the sport she loves. She began training with two-time Olympic bronze medalist Jimmy Pedro and together, they rebuilt her career. In London, she won the Olympic title in the 78kg class and became the first American to win a gold medal in judo. Harrison wept as the national anthem was played in her honor and later said, “I’m happy to realize my dream.” Not only did she raise awareness for her sport but also for victims of sexual abuse. In December, she and baseball pitcher R.A. Dickey were photographed on the cover of Sports Illustrated discussing sexual abuse in sports.
GOLDEN SLAM ACHIEVED
Serena Williams knew what it was like to win at Centre Court at Wimbledon. After all, she won the Wimbledon title earlier in 2012. But she had never won an Olympic title there until this past summer. And she actually came away from the All England Club with two Olympic golds, one in singles and the other in doubles with her sister, Venus, as her partner. In the singles final, Serena knocked off Maria Sharapova, 6-0, 6-1. She had completed the Golden Slam, having won all four Grand Slams in her career and the Olympic crown. She had won Olympic doubles crowns in 2000 and 2008 but never a singles title until this year. Perhaps the most impressive part of Serena’s victories in London was that she had been diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, which saps victims of their energy.
WOMEN’S SOCCER TEAM FULL OF HEROICS
The U.S. women’s soccer team has become known for all sorts of last-minute heroics, and there was no shortage of them in London. In its semifinal game against Canada, with the score tied at three goals apiece in the final minutes of extra time, Alex Morgan headed the ball just over the hand of Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod’s hand to put Team USA into the gold-medal game. In the final the United States was seeking revenge against Japan, which had defeated the Americans for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup title. Carli Lloyd scored twice to give the United States a 2-1 victory in front of 80,203 fans in one of the most well-known soccer pitches in the world, Wembley Stadium.
GOLD UNDER PRESSURE
London’s Royal Artillery Barracks was the scene of one of the most dramatic contests of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. After shattering his bow in the semifinals and missing an entire set while he went to find a replacement bow, Jeff Fabry prevailed to make it to the gold-medal match. Fabry later became the first American to win an Olympic or Paralympic gold medal in archery since 1996. It is the first U.S. Paralympic gold medal in archery since 1984.
RELATIVE UNKNOWN TAKES SILVER
Richard Browne was not the favorite to win the men’s 100 (T44 class) event at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. The most anticipated event of the Games, all eyes were on Americans Blake Leeper and Jerome Singleton, Great Britain’s Jonnie Peacock and South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius, who had competed in the Olympic Games in London a month earlier. In the end, however, Browne wound up finishing a stunning second behind Peacock, the world-record holder. Pistorius was fourth with Leeper and Singleton placing fifth and sixth respectively.
ROWING TO HISTORY
Oksana Masters and Rob Jones earned the bronze medal in mixed double sculls at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, becoming the first U.S. medalists in that event. Masters, born in the Ukraine, was born with several birth defects because her mother was exposed to radiation. Jones lost his legs in an IED blast in Afghanistan. Masters was named USRowing’s Female Athlete of the Year and Jones was named USRowing’s Man of the Year. [entire first sentence to: