We watch the Olympics in anticipation of the next great moment. The next heroic Kerri Strugg vault, Cathy Freeman sprint or Jason Lezak anchor leg. The most memorable moments, however, are not always moments of greatness. They can be heartbreaking, like Liu Xiang's injury at the 2008 Beijing Games, or tragic like the massacre of Israeli athletes in Munich.
We watch because we are eager to witness history, and the Olympics is teeming with history-making opportunities.
Here are the most memorable moments from the 2012 London Olympics.
July 30: Gymnastics, Women's Team Qualifying
It was great to watch Aly Raisman on the uneven bars, but the real greatness came when NBC showed her parents' reaction during the routine. They were jerking back and forth the whole time, looking like they just overdosed on ex-lax but couldn't move to get to the bathroom.
Say what you will about whether or not they were overbearing or overinvolved. The fact is they love their daughter, and it is an anxiety-laden sport.
Aug. 10: Track and Field, Men's 4x400-Meter Relay
Even with the injuries it suffered leading up to the event, the United States was still the clear favorite to win the men's 4x400-meter relay. After Bahamas ran its two best runners, Chris Brown and Demetrius Pinder, in the first two legs, the Americans took the lead.
The United States and Bahamas pulled away from the rest of the field, making it a two-team race for gold.
Third Bahamian runner Michael Mathieu stayed within striking distance, but the Americans seemed to be making a move. When Ramon Miller got the baton, he started off behind American anchor Angelo Taylor.
Along the back stretch and into the final turn, Taylor still led. That's when Miller struck.
With 50 meters left, he overtook Taylor, and Taylor didn't have enough energy left to catch him. It was a new Bahamian national record—2 minutes, 56.72 seconds—but more importantly, it was an Olympic gold medal.
It was the Bahamas' only medal of the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Aug. 7: Track and Field, Women's 100-Meter Hurdles Final
All eyes were on Lolo Jones to start the race, but by the end, they were on Sally Pearson and the scoreboard. It was a photo finish, and the Aussie did not know if she had won. The first name to appear on the board would be the champion, and when it came up that she had won with an Olympic record, she immediately collapsed on the track, overjoyed.
It was a huge relief to win the gold for Pearson, who had been a heavy favorite for two years and carried the anticipation of the entire sports-crazy nation.
Aug. 17: Men's Super Heavyweight Weightlifting
German weightlifter Matthias Steiner, the defending super-heavyweight champion, buckled under 432 pounds and paid the price. The weight dropped on the back of his neck and he was bent awkwardly. Officials brought out a blue curtain to cover the scene as he received medical attention, and he ultimately walked off with a fist pump and no permanent injuries.
August 11: Men's Soccer Final
Brazil is a powerhouse in soccer, but had never won a gold medal. Mexico came into the gold-medal match as a heavy underdog, but Oribe Peralta scored 29 seconds into the game and added the winner in the second half.
Mexico's 2-1 win has put it in the conversation for contention at the next World Cup, in 2014. The celebration on the field was in stark contrast to the Brazilian players, who were distraught over the loss. It was arguably the biggest moment in Mexican soccer history.
July 27: Opening Ceremonies
It was no Beijing, but it had its moments.
The coolest moment of the London Opening Ceremonies came when James Bond and the Queen herself jumped out of a helicopter and made a parachute entrance to the show. Of course, it wasn't really Daniel Craig and Her Majesty, but it was clever. She also had some lines in the recorded part leading up to the jump, showing she's got a sense of humor at age 86.
July 28: Swimming, Women's 400-Meter IM
Is she simply too good to be clean?
Ye Shiwen, 16, not only set the world record en route to gold in the 400 IM, but she swam the event five seconds faster than she ever had before. Her final 50 meters were faster than American star Ryan Lochte's were in the men's competition (he won gold).
Red flags popped up everywhere about the young star, with many in the swimming world calling her performance "impossible." Although suspicion levels are still high, for now, we can look at her record as one that only she could possibly break in the near future.
Oh, and she took gold in the 200 IM a few days later...
August 12: Men's Basketball Final
No surprise here, but it certainly wasn't easy.
Team USA led Spain by just one point after three quarters and surged late, using a key three-pointer and monstrous slam from LeBron James to prevail, 107-100. Kevin Durant led the way with 30 points for the Americans, who had some concerns heading into the Games with their lack of size in the paint.
The fact that they didn't dominate the final is what puts the game on this list.
"A lot of teams have won gold easy. We didn't want it that way," James told ESPN. "We're a competitive team, and we love when it gets tight. That's when our will and determination kind of shows."
July 30: Fencing, Women's Epee Semifinal
Shin A-Lam was screwed over by a technical error, and everybody knew it. The South Korean fencer lost her semifinal match in sudden death after the clock failed to start, allowing her opponent time to record a winning touch.
It was obvious, but the judges couldn’t overrule it. She refused to leave the piste (the competition surface in fencing), which in fencing means that a competitor accepts a judge’s ruling. She sat there in isolation, crying intermittently for an hour while her coach pushed for the appeal. Eventually, security escorted her off (to a standing ovation), and she went on to lose her bronze-medal match.
She refused the consolation medal offered to her, but went on to win gold in the team competition.
Aug. 11: Track and Field, Women's 4x100-Meter Relay Final
As Carmelita Jeter crossed the finish line of the women's 4x100-meter relay, she emphatically pointed at the clock next to the track, which showed the United States' new world-record time of 40.82 seconds in the event. The team broke the old record, a 41.37 set by East Germany in 1985, by over half a second.
It was one of the oldest world records still standing, but Jeter, Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix and Bianca Knight broke it four years after the American team botched the final exchange in the semifinal of the 2008 Olympics.
Redemption came four years later, in the form of the fastest time ever run in the event.
July 29: Swimming, Men's 4x100-Meter Freestyle Relay Final
Ryan Lochte had won the 400 IM the day earlier, but he flopped in the coveted 4x100 freestyle relay. He was given a half-body length lead for the anchor leg but gave it all up and then some to Yannick Agnel and the rival French team.
For France, it was vindication after being beaten by Jason Lezak and the U.S. in Beijing. For the Americans, it was a disappointing silver medal.
Aug. 3: Swimming, Women's 800-Meter Freestyle Final
No one could blame Katie Ledecky if she fizzled in the 800-meter freestyle in London. She was a 15-year-old with limited experience in big meets. In the biggest of them all, however, she flirted with the world record and beat a stacked field.
Her reaction to winning—a beaming and excited smile like she had just met Justin Bieber—is something we'll see over and over as she keeps winning Olympic medals. By the way, she'll still be a teenager in Rio.
July 25th: Women's Soccer Group Play
Things got off to a rocky start at the London Games with a serious mistake on the first day.
North Korean soccer players came out on the pitch prior to their match against Colombia and were introduced with their names on the scoreboard next to a South Korean flag. The North Koreans stormed off the field in protest and claimed it was an intentional act.
The match was delayed for over an hour, and North Korea went on to win, 2-0.
Aug. 5: Gymnastics, Women's Vault Final
American gymnast McKayla Maroney was the overwhelming favorite in the vault competition, but a fall on her last vault landed her with a silver medal. She tried to hide her disappointment but failed, giving a snicker that will go down in history.
It's already an Internet sensation. She is showing up everywhere in online memes.
Aug. 8: Women's Beach Volleyball Final
It ended up an all-American championship match after the top two seeds went down in the semifinals. Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh dismantled compatriots April Ross and Jen Kessy, 21-16, 21-16 to win a third consecutive gold medal. It was the last match ever for the greatest duo of all time. May-Treanor is retiring to start a family of her own, while Walsh, already a mom, hopes to keep competing.
July 31: Badminton, Women's Qualifying Matches
This was the biggest scandal of the London Olympics.
A flaw in the tournament format made it beneficial for certain badminton teams to lose matches in their pools, but it was no excuse for the blatant tanking by Chinese and Korean players in their match.
The players intentionally and flagrantly missed serves in an effort to lose, even after warnings from an official to play their hardest. They were eventually booed off the court and a total of eight players were kicked out of the competition.
Aug. 9: Track and Field, Men's 4x400-Meter Relay Qualifying
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the toughest guy in the Olympics.
American Manteo Mitchell broke his leg in the middle of the 4x400-meter relay qualifying heat and kept going. He had slipped on some stairs a few days earlier but felt okay. In the middle of the race, however, he heard a pop and started feeling intense pain. He had fractured his fibula.
Oh, and he ran a solid split and the U.S. ended up with the fastest qualifying time, along with the Bahamas.
"I heard it and I felt it," he told The Associated Press. "But I figured it's what almost any person would've done in that situation."
That's the stuff legends are made of.
Aug. 4: Swimming, Women's 4x100-Meter Medley Relay Final
Missy Franklin was one of the stars of the Olympics and she certainly didn't disappoint. It was a team performance, however, that provided her greatest moment.
The United States women went out in style, setting the world record to win the 4x100-meter medley relay. It was a dream team of sorts, with three world-record holders swimming in their strongest disciplines—Franklin in the backstroke, Dana Vollmer in the butterfly and Rebecca Soni in the breaststroke. Allison Schmitt swam her freestyle leg in world-record pace as well.
Aug. 5: Tennis, Men's Final
Less than a month after falling to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final, Great Britain's Andy Murray got a second chance against the Swiss superstar in the gold-medal match. This time, he prevailed in straight sets, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4, to the delight of the home crowd.
“It has been the best week of my tennis career by a mile,” Murray said (via The Washington Post). “I’ve had a lot of tough losses. This is the best way to come back from the Wimbledon final. I’ll never forget it.”
July 29: Gymnastics, Women's All-Around Qualifying
There is just so much pressure on gymnasts.
Jordyn Wieber was the world champion and the favorite to win the individual all-around competition, but the American shockingly failed to even qualify when teammates Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas finished ahead of her. The moment it was confirmed, she tried to hold it together but couldn't help but cry.
You had to feel for her—a teenage girl who had just suffered her biggest disappointment with the whole world watching.
It made the gold medal in the team competition a couple of days later that much sweeter.
Aug. 6: Track and Field, Men's 400-Meter Hurdles Final
Dominican hurdler Felix Sanchez, the champion at the 2004 Athens Olympics, found out on the day of his heat in Beijing that his grandmother had passed away. He failed to even qualify.
In London, the 34-year-old ran with her picture attached to the back of his bib. When he won (with the exact same time he won with eight years earlier), he took the picture out, laid it on the track and kissed it.
Rain started to fall as he stepped up to the podium, and he broke down sobbing.
"It started to rain. It made me feel like she was crying tears of joy with me," Sanchez said afterwards (via The Daily Mail).
Aug. 7: Track and Field, Men's 110-Meter Hurdles Qualifying
Liu Xiang, the 2004 gold medalist in the 110-meter hurdles, couldn't defend his medal on home turf in Beijing due to an injury. London was the spot for vindication, but it was not to be.
Liu crashed out on the first hurdle in his preliminary heat, suffering an Achilles injury that would require surgery. He hopped to the finish line alongside the hurdles, went over and gave the 10th one a kiss, and was then helped off the track by fellow competitors. It was a heartwarming scene in a heartbreaking story.
Aug. 9: Track and Field, Men's 800-Meter Final
You know it's a big moment when the Olympic chairman calls it the "standout performance" of the Games.
David Rudisha of Kenya won the 800 meters by resetting his world record time in one minute, 40.91 seconds.
"This was in an Olympic final. To basically express such physical and mental confidence that you take an 800m out in an Olympic final from gun to tape (is remarkable)," chairman Sebastian Coe told Reuters.
Aug. 2: Gymnastics, Women's All-Around Final
Although Gabby Douglas had led from the beginning, the women's individual all-around title was up for grabs heading into the final event—the floor exercise.
Russian contenders Viktoria Komova (15.100) and Aliya Mustafina (14.600) turned in solid performances, but Douglas' 15.033 was enough to seal the victory. The 4'11" 16-year-old became the first African-American to win the all-around title. She even got a phone call from the President afterwards.
"You have to go out there and be a beast. Because if you don't, you're not going to be on the top," she said, according to The Washington Post.
Aug. 6: Soccer, Women's Semifinal
The semifinal match against Canada had been grueling. The U.S. found three equalizers in regulation, including a controversial final goal on a penalty kick awarded to Abby Wambach. With less than a minute to go in overtime and a penalty shootout looming, Alex Morgan got her head on a cross and put it in the back of the net, sending the U.S. to the gold-medal match.
There, it won its fourth consecutive Olympic tournament.
Aug. 4: Track and field, men's 400 qualifying
South African double-amputee Oscar Pistorius had made history just by stepping up to the starting line. The “Blade Runner” didn’t stop there, advancing to the 400-meter semifinals with a second-place finish in his heat.
July 31: Gymnastics, Women's Team Final
They knew they had won, but they needed to see it become official. The U.S. women's gymnastics team stood together, holding hands and looking up at the scoreboard, awaiting confirmation that they had indeed won the team competition. Gabby Douglas on the bars, McKayla Maroney's jaw-dropping vault, Aly Raisman's clinching floor exercise—it all led up to a chance to stand together and celebrate.
Individually, it was vindication and relief for Jordyn Wieber. The favorite in the individual all-around had stood on the same floor days earlier, sobbing because she had shockingly failed to qualify. Now, she had a gold medal, and four friends to share it with her.
July 31: Swimming, Men's 4x200-Meter Freestyle Relay Final
It was a team victory, but the moment was all about Michael Phelps.
The greatest Olympian of all time won his record 19th Olympic medal after an easy anchor leg in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay, breaking the record for most medals previously set by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, who won her 18th in Tokyo in 1964.
That moment solidified his status as the greatest ever, even though we knew it was going to happen at some point.
He wasn't done there, going on to win three more before the Games were through.
Aug. 5: Track and Field, Men's 100-Meter Final
There are great cases to be made for each of Usain Bolt's victories in London, but the 100-meter race carries more weight for some key reasons.
After losing to Yohan Blake in both the 100 and 200 at the Jamaican Olympic Trials, there was doubt about whether he would win either race in London. All those questions were put away when he won the 100. It was a moment that told us that he was, indeed, still the Usain Bolt we were used to.
He was a tentative favorite in the 100, but his victory in it made him the overwhelming favorite in the 200. In that race, he dominated all the way through to the point where he was able to slow down towards the end.
The 100-meter race was also much closer than the 200 was. Americans Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin were in the hunt at the midway point, as was, of course, Blake. The 200, conversely, was over halfway through.
Adding to his iconic victory in the individual 100, Bolt delivered the 4x100 victory—and another world record—as the anchor for Jamaica. His team was dead even with the United States when Bolt and Ryan Bailey got the batons for the final leg, but Bolt, true to his name, shot into first place.
It was just another superhuman moment from Jamaica's superman.
Usain Bolt was a moment-maker, as expected, in London. He is the greatest sprinter of all time after his performances there.
Aug. 4: Track and field, men's 10K final
If you don't like goosebumps, don't watch this video.
Great Britain loves its distance running, and Mo Farah provided the host nation and the London Olympics with its most memorable moment when he won the 10,000-meter race to send the stadium into a deafening roar. It was the hallmark moment in what many called the greatest night in British track-and- field history, as the hosts also won the men's long jump (Greg Rutherford) and women's heptathlon (Jessica Ennis).
Overall, Great Britain enjoyed great success in a variety of events at its own Olympics, and this was the moment that defined all of it. As you can see in the video, there were tears in the eyes of the fans well before the race even finished.
A week later, Farah did one better by winning the double. With his victories in the men's 5,000 and 10,000, Britain's best distance runner bookended London's Olympic Games with two iconic moments that will live on to define the 2012 Olympics.
Sure, Phelps and Bolt displayed greatness, but we almost expected that. Farah was an uncertainty. Twenty-five minutes of running came down to a final lap, and he delivered for his country.
It was a triumph that will forever be a part of British history.