Memorable Olympic Moments (cont.)
So as the pain of the race set in and he thought about quitting -- which he admitted was often -- he focused on the words of his coach: "If you finish, then you're a true Olympian. If you don't finish, then you've just come here to swim."
By the fourth lap, trailing the rest of the swimmers by more than six minutes, Schulte told himself just to make it to the next buoy: You can put your hand up and surrender there. When he reached that buoy, he told himself he could quit at the next buoy. Buoy by buoy, Schulte swam the last two miles thinking of all the coaches, friends and family members who had worked to get him there. "I just felt like had I stopped, I would've let a lot of people down," he said.
The thousands lining the Serpentine cheered when Schulte finally touched at 2:03:35.1. He finished nearly 14 minutes after gold medalist Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia, more than nine minutes after Egypt's Mazen Metwaly, who stroked in 24th. Schulte finished dead last, but he finished, an Olympian indeed.
-- Sarah Kwak
After six days of track cycling at the crisp-configured velodrome, nicknamed the Pringle, the races had ended, all 30 medals had been assigned, and Teun Mulder hadn't gotten one.
But no one had come closer. When Sir Chris Hoy, the Flying Scot, found fifth gear going into the final turn of the Keirin, the 31-year-old Dutchman gutted himself to hold the Brit's wheel -- that's where the medals would be. But Germany's Max Levy beat him to it, and took silver. As for bronze, who knew? Mulder and Simon (the Rhino) van Velthooven crossed the line together. The judges would sort it all out.
Circling in the infield, Mulder noticed that he was fourth on the scoreboard, the Kiwi third. His spirits sank. "Was not a good feeling for me," he told me later. "But I was still hoping."
He kept circling. "Photo-finish," intoned the announcer. But after several minutes of poring over video, the judges gave up. Their Solomonic verdict: Give 'em both a bronze.
In a flash, the 4 next to Mulder's name became a 3, triggering what I believe to be the purest and most sustained expression of joy seen at these Games. Sobbing and laughing at once, Mulder hugged every member of his team, and many riders on other teams, some of whom he actually knew. When his name was announced during the medals ceremony, he leapt onto the podium as if performing plyometrics.
A half hour later, his smile still lit up the Pringle. I didn't need to quote him for my story, but found myself chatting him up anyway. The Olympic flame burns brighter in some athletes than others. I wanted to get close to it, for just a moment, and feel its warmth.
-- Austin Murphy
Swimming bronze medals don't seem so special in the Michael Phelps era, but give it up for Brendan Hansen. The Havertown, Pa., native, long the hard-luck man of U.S. swimming, was the last qualifier into the 100-meter breaststroke final, made the turn in sixth, and stole third place by .04 of a second, finishing in 59.49.
"It's the shiniest bronze medal I'll ever have," said Hansen, 30, a U.S. team captain who retired after a poor 2008 Olympics and took up triathlons. "It's probably the hardest medal I've ever had to work for."
The number three has bookended Hansen's career. At the 2000 Olympic Trials, where only two swimmers in each event qualified for the team, he finished third in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes. He broke world records in both of those events at the 2004 trials but didn't win an individual Olympic title. Japan's Kosuke Kitajima won double breaststroke gold in Athens and Beijing. In the 100 breast final in London, it was Kitajima, next to Hansen in Lane 7, who spurred the American to bronze. Hansen looked at Kitajima and thought, I'm going to beat you. Hansen did, for the first time at an Olympics (Kitajima was fifth) to win his fifth career Olympic medal (he later added a sixth, a medley-relay gold).
Hansen won individual bronze and silver in Athens, and it was a letdown. In Beijing, too, the goal was individual gold, and he came up short. But in London, finally, Hansen felt satisfaction. "That is as fast as I can go," he said.
-- Nick Zaccardi
My favorite moment took place on a blustery night at Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United. One of the big differences between the 2012 U.S. women's Olympic soccer team and the 2008 gold medalists is the number of hardcore European soccer fans on this year's team, players like Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe who watch game after game played in the cathedrals of the sport. Sure enough, it was Rapinoe who found herself with the ball on sacrosanct turf in the second half of the Olympic semifinal against Canada.
The U.S. was trailing 2-1, with Rapinoe and Canadian star Christine Sinclair trading haymakers in a back-and-forth game, but now Rapinoe found an opening on the right side just outside the Canadian penalty area. With technique straight from the coaching textbook, Rapinoe fizzed a right-footed blast through the defense. It pinged off the left post into the goal, cueing a moment of gobsmacked uncertainty in its author. How to celebrate? Rapinoe turned, faced the crowd and threw her hands in the air, her pose frozen in time. "Probably the goal of my life," she would say. "There's no better feeling than scoring a goal, and to do it that way, at Old Trafford, in the Olympics, was just crazy. It's like, Holy s---, I'm the s---. I can't believe I just did that. Absolute disbelief."
There would be more drama in a game the U.S. would win 4-3, but Rapinoe's Manchester moment will always remain with me.
-- Grant Wahl
On my five-minute walk from the hotel to the media bus every morning, the British Museum was on the left: massive building, Ionic columns, repository of artifacts of all Western civilization. Tough to miss. True, the museum was not actually a London 2012 venue, but it was more compelling than, say, the weightlifting hall.
I would stop in some mornings for maybe 75 minutes, playing a little Olympic hooky. (Did I mention admission is free? No? Well, it is. And not just for sportswriters.) The Elgin Marbles on the ground floor are spectacular -- Greece still wants the chunks of the Parthenon back -- but I found myself continually drawn up the south stairs to Room 40, where the Lewis Chessmen, the most renowned chess set in the world, were on display. The pieces, Scandinavian in origin, were carved from walrus ivory and whale tooth more than 800 years ago. Then I usually would wander to Room 56 and see the pieces (circa 2,400 to 2,600 B.C.) of the Royal Game of Ur, a precursor to backgammon. The connection between these exhibits to the Olympics struck me as as obvious as the three-deep mob around the Rosetta Stone: The chess set and the board game represented man's basic need for amusement and recreation, which, to reduce some 10,500 athletes from 204 countries to their essence, speaks as to why the Games matter. Too bad I needed 17 Olympics to figure that out.
-- Michael Farber