The queen of any Olympic Games is almost sure to be the women's gymnastics all-around champion. Douglas was that and also a history maker. In London, Douglas not only won that crown, but she also made history by becoming the first African-American to jump, flip and twist to the top of the gymnastics world, taking the all-around crown just days after she and her Fierce Five teammates won gold in the team competition. Douglas qualified third for the final, behind Russia's Viktoria Komova and U.S. teammate Aly Raisman, but she improved her scores on all four events in the final, competing with verve and joy, and topped Komova to take the title.
Speed disappears before stamina, explaining why distance runners last longer than sprinters and why repeat Olympic sprint champions are such a rarity. But when the Jamaican star ran both the 100 and 200 meters at the London Games, he pulled off a first by repeating the double gold he won in Beijing four years earlier. What made Bolt's double even more special were the doubters. He was beaten twice at his own Olympic trials by Jamaican teammate Yohan Blake, causing many to assume Bolt's best days were behind him. But after superb runs of 9.63 seconds and 19.32 seconds in his two finals, the only thing behind Bolt was his defeated competition.
Coming off his clean sweep of eight gold medals in Beijing, history's greatest swimmer couldn't have topped his own Olympic performance of 2008. Instead, he swam for history, taking home six medals including his third straight individual gold in both the 100m butterfly and the 200m IM, making him the first swimmer to win golds in the same individual event at three straight Olympics. He finished his brilliant career with 22 Olympic medals, 18 of the gold -- both career records for the Games. Russian gymnast Larissa Latynina, who until then had been the medal leader with 18, then congratulated Phelps and proclaimed him the greatest Olympian of all-time.
The stands of London's Olympic stadium simply shook with thunder as Farah completed his final laps of his triumphant runs in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Farah confirmed the distance-running tradition of his adopted home of Great Britain, holding off talented fields to capture the double. Born in Somalia and raised during his early childhood in Djibouti, Farah moved to the U.K. at age eight, initially dreaming of a place on the football pitch. Though he made his training base in the U.S., the 29-year-old world traveller lit up the track in London.
Few athletes in any sport have competed with the joy and enthusiasm as Franklin, the 17-year-old star of the pool. Showing her versatility, Franklin triumphed in freestyle, backstroke, individual medley and relay events, winning four gold medals and a bronze at the London Games. Franklin has never taken the easy path. The daughter of Canadian parents, including a father who once played for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, Franklin was often advised in her younger days to compete for Canada in order to avoid the rigorous qualification system in the United States. She also turned down the opportunity to earn prize money for her exploits in the pool in order to fulfill a dream to compete as a collegiate swimmer. She accepted a scholarship offer at Cal and will compete as a Bear for her Olympic coach Teri McKeever next season.
The track cycling star delighted the home crowd when he became the most decorated British Olympian in history at the London Games. With four gold medals and a silver over his previous three Olympic appearances, Hoy entered the London Games with enormous expectations. He was an ambassador for the Olympics before the Games and he served as the British flag bearer during the opening ceremonies. In London, he set a world record with teammates Jason Kenny and Philip Hindes in winning the team sprint event, and then captured his sixth career gold medal by winning the Keirin event. He passed Sir Steven Redgrave atop the all-time list among athletes of the host nation.
U.S. Women's Soccer
A year after an emotional loss to Japan on penalty kicks in the World Cup final, the U.S. team avenged the defeat with a gritty 2-1 victory against the Japanese in the Olympic final at Wembley Stadium in London. Carli Lloyd scored twice to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead, but after Yuki Ogimi cut it to 2-1 in the 63rd minute, Hope Solo made some key stops and the U.S. women held on for victory. Two nights earlier, the team rallied from three deficits to defeat Canada, 4-3 in the final minute. The triumph marked the fourth gold medal in five Olympics for the U.S. women's team.
The judoka's story of devastation to triumph was one of the most heartening at the London Games. As a young athlete she was abused by her first judo coach, who is now serving a 12-year jail sentence. At Harrison's darkest hour, she joined Jimmy Pedro's gym in Wakefield, Mass., more so to steady her mind than to build her judo. No U.S. judoka had ever won an Olympic gold medal, though Pedro, a world champion and two-time Olympic bronze medalist, came closest. In London Harrison defeated Briton Gemma Gibbons to win the U.S.' first Olympic judo title. She had given Pedro his lifelong dream after he had given her back her life.
The best platform diver in the United States looked as if he would never make it to the 10-meter finals. After winning a bronze medal in the synchronized platform with teammate Nick McCrory, Boudia, 23, barely advanced from the preliminary round, placing just 18th out of 32 divers, a full 124 points behind Qiu Bo, the reigning world champion and the 2011 World Diver of the Year from China. Boudia then crept into third placed during the semifinal round of the event, but later faced stiff competition in the final from Qiu and Tom Daley, Britain's hometown favorite. Improving his marks from the previous round on all six dives, the man who was once too frightened to dive off the platform, edged Qiu to take the title, the first Olympic gold medal for the U.S. in men's diving since the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
Not only can he wrestle; Burroughs also gets the gold medal for best dance at the Olympics. The 24-year-old entered the London Games as prohibitive favorite, having won both the Pan-Am Games and world championships. Those were remarkable achievements, given that Burroughs also won the NCAA Championships, with a completely different style and set of rules, in 2011. After plowing through the Olympic field, Burroughs, whose twitter name is @alliseeisgold, topped Iran's Sadegh Saeed Goudarzi in the final to win gold at 74 kgs. After his victory, Burroughs danced around the arena floor, then ran into the crowd to find his family, and continued the performance in the stands. It was hard to tell if Burroughs turned in his best moves on the mat or in the seats.