Missy Franklin, who was 17 during the London 2012 Olympic Games, was one of the stars of the entire U.S. Olympic squad. She earned five medals — four gold and a bronze.
“The summer just went perfect,” Franklin said. “I can't imagine a better way for it to have gone. It was the time of my life, it was more fun than I've ever had before. I have the best team, I got so close to all my teammates. That's what it's all about.”
The Games in London might have ended, but for many U.S. Olympians, the honors continue to roll in.
Franklin is one of six 2012 Olympians who are semifinalists for the prestigious AAU James E. Sullivan Award, given to the top amateur athlete in the United States. The other U.S. Olympic semifinalist athletes are David Boudia (diving), Jordan Burroughs (wrestling), Gabrielle Douglas (gymnastics), Claressa Shields (boxing) and Maggie Steffens (water polo).
Fifteen athletes are on the semifinal ballot and voting ends March 17. Three finalists will be named March 25 and the winner will be announced April 16 at the Amateur Athletic Union’s headquarters in Orlando. Read more and cast your vote here.
After qualifying for four individual events at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Franklin competed in those four races — 100- and 200-meter backstroke and 100 and 200 freestyle — plus all three relays. She swept the backstroke events, breaking the world record in the 200. Franklin won two gold medals and a bronze with the relay teams.
“It was kinda like, ‘All the hard work has been done. We're tapered,’” said Franklin, who became the first American woman to compete in seven events at a single Olympic Games. “All we had to do is swim, which is my favorite thing in the world to do.”
Boudia’s London experience was just as thrilling, as he won the men’s 10-meter platform gold medal in dramatic fashion. He upset the pre-event favorite, China’s Qiu Bo, as well as Great Britain’s Tom Daley — the hometown boy who finished third and who drew the biggest cheers during the entire diving competition at the London Aquatics Centre.
And he did so after placing 18th, in last place, in the qualifying round.
Boudia became the first American diver to win an Olympic medal since Laura Wilkinson did so in 2000. Boudia was the first American man to win the 10-meter platform title since Greg Louganis in 1988.
“This is a huge honor,” Boudia said. “If you look back at all the people who have won this award, there’s a long list of distinguished athletes. It’s cool because you see the other athletes and there’s a lot of people from the aquatic world, which is awesome.”
Boudia said that he doesn’t remember winning the gold medal; he’s had to relive the moment through video replays.
“When an athlete gets in a zone, it’s like they don’t remember a lot,” Boudia said. “Obviously looking back and watching the tapes, reliving it that way, I can understand exactly what happened. But really without that, me getting out of the water and taking off from the platform is all I remember.”
Douglas, on the other hand, remembers exactly what happened in London. Another Olympic rookie who shined brilliantly in her debut, Douglas was 16 during the Games and out-performed the world’s best gymnasts to win the all-around title. She also won the team gold medal, along with her “Fierce Five” teammates McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber.
Douglas was the first African-American gymnast to win the Olympic all-around title. The last U.S. gymnast to win the Sullivan Award was Shawn Johnson, with whom Douglas trained in Iowa.
“I'm still just so happy and honored that I was able to play a part in helping my team win gold for the USA,” said Douglas, who was voted the Associated Press' Female Athlete of the Year. “After 10 years of constant training, all the sacrifices, and having to make the very hard decision to move away from my home and family in Virginia to go and live and train in Iowa … It finally paid off, and my dream became a reality.”
Burroughs, meanwhile, began his 2012 Olympic season by winning the 74-kilogram freestyle weight class at the U.S. Olympic Trials last April. A few months later, he was standing on top of the medal stand in London after earning gold in the same event. Burroughs also claimed other international gold medals in 2012: the Dave Schultz Memorial International in Colorado Springs and the Cerro Pelado International in Cuba.
“This has been a long time coming,” Burroughs said after hugging his mom in the stands in London. “I've trained for a number of years, dreamed for a number of years and got it done. I had a plan, executed it perfectly and I'm Olympic champ.”
Burroughs also gave one of the best quotes of the 2012 Games: “I'm ready to wrestle anyone who steps across that line. If the Queen of England came out on the mat I probably would double-leg her. I was ready to go.”
With women’s boxing debuting at the London Games, Shields was able to fight her way to a gold medal in the middleweight (165-pound) division. But Shields’ journey to London was not easy, as an international boxing rule nearly cost her a chance of earning a berth on the U.S. team.
The 17-year-old won her weight class at U.S. Olympic Trials and seemed poised to make the trip to London – all she needed was a top-eight result at the World Championships a few months later. However, a last-minute rule change meant she needed to be either the first- or second-ranked boxer from the Americas. Ultimately she made the U.S. Olympic squad despite losing in the second round.
“I think I'm still numb,” Shields said. “I don’t even know if this is real right now. It feels unbelievable. I can’t believe this happening right now. I’m surprised I didn’t cry though.”
With Steffens’ help, the U.S. women’s water polo team won its first Olympic gold medal in 2012. A women’s competition was added to the Olympic Games in 2000, and the Americans claimed two silver medals and a bronze at the first three Games.
Backed by Steffens’ prolific goal-scoring abilities, however, the U.S. team advanced to the gold-medal match last summer against Spain. Steffens, who was 19 at the time, then scored five of the squad’s eight goals in the final to lead the Americans to victory.
“I feel so fortunate to be nominated for this award,” said Steffens, who was the top goal scorer at the Olympic Games with 21. “Some of the past winners were my inspiration to be where I am today. To have the opportunity to be among that list is the most incredible and humbling feeling.”