By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
To rank “moments” is a silly endeavor. Moments are subjective, personable, and important to those who experience them. Anyone attending the 2012 London Olympics would have completely different “memorable moments.” They’d have off-the-beaten path types of moments that no one else sees – behind the scenes, away from the cameras, ones that belong just to them. But if we were to choose a few of the more iconic moments – those that were seen by most of the masses -- I’d have to venture that they wouldn’t stray far from the following.
Here are 10 memorable moments from London….
1. Michael Phelps acting graciously after his 200 fly “loss.”
This was, perhaps, probably the most interesting and memorable moment of these Olympic Games. It’s easy to be mad in defeat. It’s easy to pout, not to show up for post-race interviews, hide, or stew in anger. It takes someone much, much bigger to put a smile on, talk graciously of defeat, and accept one’s result. When Michael Phelps was out-touched in the 200m fly, afterwards on the podium, he was gracious. He had perspective of his overall career. He was smiling. He was laughing with his conqueror. It was a man at peace with his standing in the swimming world. It was the first moment I realized the impact he’s had on swimming: He knew he was the greatest of all-time. When we watched him, with his silver medal, smiling, laughing, enjoying himself, the rest of us realized it, too.
2. Phelps vs. Lochte in the 200 IM: The Final Showdown.
I think if Michael Phelps lost this race, his legacy would not have changed. He still would have gone down as Greatest of All Time. And Ryan Lochte was, as it should be noted, coming off a very difficult double (minutes after swimming the excruciating 200m backstroke). But in the short term, if Michael Phelps lost this race, there would have been a few questions: Was Ryan Lochte the new Michael Phelps? Did Michael miss his taper? Was Michael prepared? However, none of these questions had to be asked. Phelps won, of course. He defeated a man who had dominated him in the longer IM earlier. This victory solidified Phelps’ G.O.A.T. ranking. Lochte and Phelps split their head-to-head races, with Phelps getting the last “friendly” laugh -- one that will reverberate long into retirement.
3. The Chinese swimmers surging ahead in the last 50s.
Sifting through my clogged memories, there are two that stand out above the others. The first is a screaming, emotional Sun Yang, seconds after his gold medal performance in the 400m freestyle. The other is Ye Shiwen pulling ahead of Elizabeth Beisel while out-splitting her male counterpart Ryan Lochte in the process. These were incredible performances by the Chinese. There was some speculation of performance enhancing drug use, and writing here of those legendary final laps is not intended to fuel that speculation. We have no right to criticize these great moments of Olympic history unless there is justifiable evidence to do so. Rowdy Gaines, one of the best in the business, said that there just isn’t any proof. He is correct. There is no proof of anything, except the Chinese have phenomenal final 50s. Two that I’ll remember forever.
4. Every interview Missy Franklin ever gave.
Instead of Britney, Lindsay, or Miley, teenage girls should emulate Missy. Let me say this: Missy Franklin is like a breath of fresh air in the sports world. She’s fun, smart, fast, and personable. If you don’t like Missy Franklin, you’re dead inside. You can’t not like Missy. Hating Missy Franklin would be like hating rainbows or happy little clouds. Even the Bob Costas interview where NBC made Missy speak directly into a camera to Justin Bieber -- Missy handled it with grace and charisma. Honestly, Missy could have sank in London and still been a star. However, she didn’t sink – she’s a multiple gold medalist -- and for that, she’s become a bona-fide superstar. Missy is reportedly turning down millions of dollars of endorsements and prize money to pursue collegiate swimming, and I couldn’t be happier. Whatever keeps her smiling in those interviews, the sports world is better for it.
5. Anthony Ervin’s jaw-dropping comeback.
He didn’t medal. He had a slow start. But Anthony Ervin has had one of the most remarkable comebacks in the history of competitive swimming. After retiring from the sport as a young twenty-something, Ervin sold his 2000 Olympic gold medal to raise money for Indonesia tsunami victims. He then joined a rock band, moved around, battled substance abuse, and even tried to kill himself. (As Constantine Markides of “Rolling Stone” reported in his article, “The Rebel Olympian.”) Since then, Ervin found his bearings and qualified the Olympic team. He’s enjoying the water again. He even tweeted out that he wanted to find the next swim meet to compete: “And so I ask myself, when and where is my next race?” Though he didn’t medal in the 50m freestyle, the 31-year-old is, in my opinion, the most talented sprinter in history. For him, it was all about the road less taken and the journey to get to London. To come back (and I know Anthony hates that word, but that’s what he did – he came back) to the Olympics was a thrill for anyone who followed his fascinating and ultimately inspiring career.
6. Nathan Adrian + Matt Grevers = gold medal roommates and BFFs?
Roommates in the Olympic village, Grevers and Adrian must have been doing something right. Did they keep each other inspired throughout the meet, feeding off each other’s successes? Did they make each other’s beds every day? We’ll never know. Both won their individual event. Both won the hearts of millions. Both are hilarious on Twitter. They are every marketer’s and sponsor’s dream come true. And they’re also really, really, ridiculously tall. Expect both of these guys to be the face of U.S. competitive swimming in the future. They are charismatic, confident, well-spoken, and all-around good guys. Nothing better could have happened to Team USA than these two winning individual gold. (And I’m not just saying that because I know Matt … although, if you want, read last week’s column about me watching him win gold…)
7. Lia Neal accepts her place among the world’s best sprinters.
When Lia Neal swam her way onto the finals of the 400 freestyle relay, New York City erupted in celebration. This athlete was one of their own. Neal hails from Downtown Brooklyn – a borough where no indoor 50m pool exists. She has made the most populated city in America the proudest city in America. Only 17-years-old, Neal has an entire career ahead of her. Her confidence must be sky-rocketing. She returns to Asphalt Green Aquatics under head coach Rachel Stratton-Mills. We can expect even bigger things from Neal in the future.
8. The women’s 400 medley relay dominates.
Who didn’t have goosebumps in that final 400 medley relay? When “Schmitty” took charge and swam the American contingent to a new WR? That relay performance is my pick for the Golden Goggle Award for “Female Performance of the Year” because it encapsulated the four best U.S. female performers into one perfect race. Franklin. Rebecca Soni. Dana Vollmer. Schmitt. What an exclamation to a fantastic week of swimming.
9. Vollmer and Soni breaking “super suit” world records.
Dana Vollmer broke through in a major way. Rebecca Soni bounced back after a relatively disappointing 100m result. Both broke the world record en route to winning a gold medal, and more impressively, both defeated world records that were set in the “tech suit” era. What have we learned from these Olympics? Times will fall. It’s not a question of “if.” It’s when. Though it might take a bit longer because of the technological advances during 2008 and 2009, we will get faster. It’s just a matter of time, as Soni and Vollmer proved.
10. Natalie Coughlin’s last swim.
She became the most decorated U.S. female Olympian of all time (tied) and she couldn’t have done it with more class and dignity. Whatever her future holds, Coughlin has shown women how to act in interviews and how to live a balanced lifestyle in the competitive arena. Natalie Coughlin has paved professional opportunities for female swimmers in the same way that Michael Phelps did – something that is not often noticed. She was on “Dancing With the Stars.” She’s been in Pantene commercials. She had a hilarious ESPN SportsCenter promo. And others. Coughlin is the complete package, and I hope to see her on and around pool decks in the future.
Honorable Mention: Twitter unites!
I’ll remember these Games as the Olympics when a few thousand people started following me in one week. I’ve been working in this sport for five years now, and I’ve never seen the attention level as it was last week. Even in Beijing. Say what you will about the infamous tape delay: When it comes down to it, the tape delay actually gave fans two finals every single day instead of one. If you were like me, you watched the live stream, and then again the tape delay at night, and it was almost like reliving it all over. Twitter helped make both experiences fun. We could all talk about it. We could see changes and differences and nuances we didn’t catch the first time. Social media is changing our sport, drastically so, and these were, indeed, the “Social Media Olympics.” That’s how I’ll remember them.
Mike Gustafson (@MikeLGustafson) is a freelance writer with USASwimming.org and Splash Magazine.