14 Memorable moments from the 2012 London Summer Olympics
The Olympics are over, but several indelible moments will stay with SI writers
Andy Murray's run was memorable, but Olympic spirit was embodied by another
Many will remember Fierce Five, but two veterans provided refreshing contrast
LONDON -- Fourteen writers reflect on memorable scenes and events from the London Games:
Liu Xiang stopped. The Olympics -- all sports, for that matter -- are about movement: Faster, higher, stronger, right? But for me the instant that will linger longest was one of absolute stillness.
Liu, China's hero of Athens and its bust in Beijing, had come to London for his Olympic rubber match. And at first it was horrible. Breaking from the blocks in his 110-meter hurdles heat, Liu, 29, struck the first hurdle with his left heel and tumbled to the track. He grabbed for his right Achilles tendon, which also had derailed his Olympic run in 2008. He then rose and hopped on his left foot into the nearest stadium tunnel.
It was over. Liu had ruptured his Achilles. But then, halfway down the tunnel, Liu stopped. He stood for an instant, perched on the one leg like a heron waiting at water's edge. You could almost hear his body screaming, "Lie down!" but see him thinking, No.
His leg hovered. A man pushing a wheelchair came rushing up, but Liu didn't want that. He pivoted 180 degrees and began hopping again. When he emerged into the stadium, the cheering rose. Liu kept hopping, wincing, gritting his teeth down the side of the 110-meter course, the one he hadn't completed at an Olympics for eight years. He veered into the center of the track, leaned over and gave the final hurdle in Lane 5 a kiss. Then he hopped across the finish line.
In all, Liu had covered about 250 meters, had been hopping on his one leg for at least 65 seconds. Hungarian hurdler Balazs Baji, who had started the heat next to him, grabbed Liu's right arm and thrust it into the air: a champion, nonetheless. That seemed about right.
-- S.L. Price
In an Olympics that were a 17-day festival of hugs -- of celebration and consolation; exhaustion and exuberance; between teammates and between rivals; on the field, in the pool, on the mat and even in the stands, shared (quite properly, of course) by a royal couple -- it is the one I will remember most: a spontaneous embrace that wrapped up in its fierce and joyous grip a lifetime's worth of pain, resilience, trust and love, and, absolutely, the redemptive power of sports.
American judoka Kayla Harrison's story had gotten plenty of play before the Games: how she had been sexually abused for years by her coach before finding the courage as a teenager to testify against him, sending him to prison; how she had moved -- still fragile and angry -- from Ohio to Massachusetts to live and train with famed coach Jimmy Pedro and his father, Big Jim (always referred to as "America's first family of judo"); and how the two tough men had given her a haven and molded her into the strong 22-year-old woman who would come to London as the best hope to bring the U.S. its first-ever gold medal in judo.
And it happened: In the packed and deafening confines of the ExCeL's North Arena 2, Harrison dominated Britain's Gemma Gibbons in the 78-kg (172-pound) final to win 2-0. After throwing her arms to the sky and then bowing to Gibbons, Harrison leapt from the platform into the arms of Jimmy Pedro, who held her suspended in a bear hug that might have crushed anyone else.
Later, in the media mixed zone, a broad smile breaking again and again across her face, Harrison would talk of finding her fiancÚ, Aaron Handy, in the stands; of seeing Big Jim crying ("But don't write that -- it'll ruin his reputation"); of her plans to become a firefighter; and, most of all, of hoping to be a role model. "I want to help kids overcome being victims," she said. "I want to help change people's lives."
It was the Olympic moment I will hold onto tightest.
-- Richard O'Brien
Maybe it's because it was kept secret until the night. Maybe it's because Rowan Atkinson can leave me laughing and crying at the same time. Maybe it's because the skit sent up a piece of instrumental music that, in Britain, is a kind of secular hymn. Whatever the reason, I loved Atkinson's Mr. Bean in the opening ceremony, pounding out Chariots of Fire at the keyboard. It featured the best of Bean: his vanity, his elastic facial tics, his ability to subvert the most solemn occasion.
I know what you're thinking. Is that it? From 17 days, with Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and Alex Morgan's header to choose from, the best you can come up with is some guy picking his nose? Please don't take this as damnation by odd praise -- even if it may seem so, what with Russian president Vladimir Putin, who has little love for the British these days, having raved about the Bean bit too.
An opening ceremony is usually a humorless exercise in breast-beating. Beijing's was four years ago, and Putin & Co.'s in Sochi two years from now surely will be too. Atkinson showcased what I love about the British, and what made these Games so reliably pleasing. Brits can be stuffy. They can be insecure. Encrusting themselves in tradition, they sometimes cling to a past that's more and more irrelevant in a changing world. But they also know how to laugh at themselves, and there's nothing more likely to kindle sympathy than that.
-- Alexander Wolff
Andy Murray was having a personal picnic on the lawns of the All England Club. He was a set away from beating Roger Federer, on the verge of becoming the latest member of Team GB to prospect Olympic gold. The capacity Centre Court crowd was delirious. So were a few thousand additional fans on the grounds, gathered on so-called Murray Mound and watching this contest on a big screen.
There was scant attention paid to the bronze medal men's singles match held on Court One, where Serbia's Novak Djokovic and Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro were locked in combat. If this was a "losers' consolation match," as one commentator coldly called it, that was never conveyed to the two principals. They labored and chased shots and competed as though losing points carried a price in blood. They pumped their fists after winners and grimaced after errors.
Both men have won majors titles. They have amassed enough wealth for multiple lifetimes. They were there with their entourages, clad in apparel they're paid handsomely to wear. True, the Olympics come only once every four years, but Djokovic and del Potro would have another opportunity to win a big event at the U.S. Open in early September.
None of that mattered. This was the Olympics.
Finally, after 108 minutes of matching skill and will, del Potro closed out the match, 7-5, 6-4. He fell to his knees as if he'd been shot. He embraced Djokovic at the net -- this is how the sportsmen in men's tennis roll these days. But then his knees buckled and he fell again, covering his face with both hands, leaking tears.