In the days and weeks leading up to the London 2012 Games, most of the chatter surrounded security planning flaps and looming safety concerns, ticket issues and gridlock around the host city. But as the Olympic torch was extinguished in London on Sunday, marking the end of the XXX Olympiad, those concerns were off in the rearview mirror.
Instead, we were left with heroes who had lifted our spirits for two weeks, ones who defined the Games with record-breaking performances. Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian. Usain Bolt solidified his status as the world's greatest sprinter after doubts were heaped upon him before the Games.
When we look back on London's third Olympics, it will likely be remembered for unbelievable performances, the heartbreak of a few, the plethora of firsts for women and countries, and the spirit of London that reverberated around the globe, culminating in a quintessential British rock concert for the closing ceremony.
Those moments will remain etched in the minds of those who participated and those who watched. So as we face our first day of Olympic withdrawal, we take a look back at the moments and themes (as well as theme songs) of London 2012 that we'll likely be talking about in an anticipation of the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
'This woman's work'
It'd be hard to even pick out which performance by a woman stood out among the rest. Perhaps that's because women were so dominant and prominent in these Games both for their achievements on the track, pitch and pool, and for symbolic achievements.
The "women's Games" began on the night of the opening ceremony when two women, modestly dressed and veiled, walked proudly alongside the flag of their nation, Saudi Arabia, into London's Olympic stadium at the Games' spectacular opening ceremony.
This understated entrance marked an extraordinary moment for the kingdom and for the Olympics itself, as the first occasion in the history of the Games when all countries participating have had women athletes in their teams.
It was a momentous Olympics for U.S. women as well. For the first time Americans sent more female athletes to the Games than men. And boy, did they deliver. While the U.S. led all countries in gold medals and the overall medal count, you can thank the U.S. women for a large part of that. Two-thirds of the times you heard the U.S. national anthem played, it was because a female had earned the top spot in her event. And 60% of the total medals were nabbed by women. To put that in perspective, if you were to break out the U.S. women into their own country, they'd be ranked third in gold medals won.
And U.S. females put on quite a show in their path to win gold in almost every venue in London.
Missy Franklin, Dana Vollmer, Rebecca Soni and Allison Schmitt each nabbed the gold in her specialty in the pool. They later combined for a wonderful relay for the team to close out their Games. The women's water polo team won for the first time.
In gymnastics, the U.S women proved up to the tough task of bringing gold back to the U.S. for the first time since 1996. Gabby Douglas won the all-around title, the first time an African-American woman had done so. Aly Raisman won a gold medal in the floor routine, a first for the United States.
Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings again dominated the sport they have helped make popular by winning a third beach volleyball medal, a fitting end for a team whose members say they have played their last competitive game together. The U.S. women's soccer team added another gold medal to its stash, taking its third straight medal by beating Japan 2-1 in a thrilling rematch of the World Cup final, where Japan took the crown. The women's basketball team also won its fifth straight gold, an unprecedented feat in the Olympics.
And then there was the U.S. track team. The female sprinters, who had racked up their own personal successes on the track with individual medals aplenty, combined to shatter the 4×100-meter relay record, which has stood for 27 years. For Sonya Richards-Ross and Allyson Felix, who were trying to erase disappointments from years past, there was no question they had risen to the occasion. And they joined two other teammates to end their Olympics with an unbelievable performance by the U.S. team, beating all the others in the 4×400-meter relay by more than four seconds.
For a few days during the Olympics, the spotlight was just as bright on the judges and scandals that arose out of the Games as on the Olympians who had to deal with wonky scoring, allegations of throwing matches and judges rescoring events after appeals.
Gymnastics saw a large number of appeals of scores, which would end up drastically altering the medal landscape and heating up the debate over Olympic scoring. Thanks to an appeal by Aly Raisman's coach, she ended up with the bronze medal on the beam after judges initially placed her fourth.
Japan made a similar request over Kohei Uchimura's score on the pommel horse during the men's team finals. Uchimura, one of the best men's gymnasts and a hero in his home country, was seen as a lock to propel Japan to a medal. But after his score was shown on the screen, it seemed Japan would be left off the podium. The scores showed China with the gold, Great Britain with the silver and Ukraine with the bronze. Japan, like Raisman, sat in fourth. But after an appeal, Japan was sent into the silver medal position, leaving Ukraine hanging without a medal.
A scoring controversy in fencing at the beginning of the Games left South Korea's Shin A-Lam in tears – and refusing to leave the piste. She appealed to judges over a delayed and stuck clock that had resulted in extra points being awarded to Britta Heidemann of Germany. She ended up leaving in tears after a 70-minute appeal.
And an unlikely scandal also rocked the Olympics. Eight badminton players were disqualified from the Olympics for allegedly throwing matches to try to influence who their opponents would be in the next round.
Reaction was swift: A scandal in badminton? But one of the players said it was with good reason they threw the match.
"We were injured before the match," Yu Yang wrote. "And we were just using the rules to give up the match in order to play better in the next knock-out round. This is the first time that group round-robin elimination was adopted in the Olympics. Do you understand the pain athletes suffer?"
Yu announced August 1 she was quitting the sport after the Badminton World Federation disqualified her and her doubles partner, along with three other teams, for "not using one's best efforts to win a match."
'Sometimes I Fail'
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention this part of the Games: The struggle to ignore the results of the Games in the U.S. because of the time difference. This fury, otherwise known as #NBCfail because of the uproar on social media, will likely be one of the big discussions during upcoming Olympics.
NBC cut away early from the closing ceremony of the London Games on Sunday to air a new television show, drawing outrage from those who tuned in for the highly anticipated musical spectacle. It was the final blow for some social network users, after the network was under fire for much of the 16 days of the Games from those angered by its tape-delayed coverage of big-ticket events, which NBC has said was necessary to maximize its prime-time audience.
The Twittersphere exploded, with "#NBCfail" and "#closingceremonies" trending worldwide, after NBC cut out performances by Ray Davies, Kate Bush, The Who and Muse in favor of a commercial-free airing of "Animal Practice" on Sunday night.
"I still don't understand, it's a tape delay, so can't you do the math in advance? Why do you need to cut off the closing ceremony? #nbcfail," Raj Sarkar wrote on Twitter.
Actor Nate Barlow posted to his Twitter account: "Why #nbcfail ranks last: no better way to turn people off a new show than to preempt @thewho & other rock legends for it."
But perhaps there is good news. The next Summer Games are in Rio, in a time zone only one hour ahead of Eastern Time.
NBC commentator Bob Costas appeared to acknowledge the issue over the network's tape-delayed coverage, saying during the broadcast that some of the challenges of televising the London Games would be eliminated at the Rio Games in 2016 because of the time zone. (The 2014 Winter Olympics, which will be televised in the U.S. by NBC, will be in Sochi, Russia – which is eight hours ahead of Eastern Time, four hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time.)
'The Crying Game'
With athletes only getting a shot every four years at Olympic glory, it's no surprise that emotions ran high at the Games. And perhaps that's why when victory (and loss) finally happen, there's a lot the athletes can no longer hold back.
Dominican runner Felix Sanchez had been holding back tears throughout the 2012 London Olympics ahead of his chance to claim the gold in memory of his grandmother. He was the 400-meter hurdles champion in Athens in 2004 but failed to repeat that victory in Beijing in 2008 after learning that his beloved "abuela" had died shortly before his first race. He didn't advance to the semifinals but resolved to return in four years.
"I kind of made a promise I would win one more championship for her," Sanchez told CNN. "I was holding a lot of emotions, a lot of tears throughout the week just watching other medal ceremonies prior to the semifinals and prior to the finals, just picturing myself on the medal stand winning gold and how it would feel in that moment."
When the moment came Tuesday, just after his win was confirmed, he tearfully collapsed on the track, pulling a picture of his grandmother out of his bib. The tears continued on the podium as his country's anthem played. Such displays from Sanchez and other athletes, including Kerri Walsh Jennings, Chris Hoy and Ruta Meilutyte, to name just a few, have led a few sports columnists to dub this summer's Olympics "the crying Games."
An informal review of medal ceremonies by The Wall Street Journal found that, as of Wednesday, about 16% of 129 gold medal winners cried at some point during the ceremony. Among the three countries with the most gold medals at the time, athletes from Great Britain cried the most, with 37.5%, followed by American winners (17%), then Chinese medalists (7%), the paper noted.
As the Games prepared to kick off, there were a lot of concerns about how ready Britain was to hold the Olympics. Could organizers fill the venues? Would people be safe? Would the opening ceremony even come close to the one in Beijing four years earlier?
It didn't take long for the proud British people and athletes to put on a show that would quiet many of the early concerns. All in all, it has been a success all around. London's Games have been an unexpected triumph, Alastair Campbell, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman, wrote for CNN.com.
"In their own way, I think these Olympics could be one of the most significant events of our lifetime. They are changing the way British people think about themselves and about their country," Campbell wrote. "We have shown we can do big things well. We have shown we can succeed at anything we set our minds to. We have changed the way many overseas think about us."
Comedian Eddie Izzard couldn't agree more. Some of the most memorable moments, such as when Great Britain's long-distance running star Mo Farah won his two events, show the country has become a proud, multicultural, truly United Kingdom, he wrote in a column on CNN.com.
It's been a long road for Britain. The organizers have transformed a neighborhood and pulled off the Games without a major hitch. And in the eyes of many people, Britain has done the world proud.
"Hosting the Olympics has also united people from all corners of the country," Izzard wrote. "Instead of seeing ourselves as English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish, we have felt British. Right from the moment of the opening ceremony, it has felt as if Britain suddenly had the confident voice it had been looking for since the height of the Industrial Revolution."