Olympics 2012 Power Rankings: Final Edition
Perhaps the most captivating element of the Olympic Games is the way it pries us from our personal day-to-day struggles and elicits patriotic feelings that more than a few had forgotten. Seeing your nation's premier athletes put it all on the line in the world's most pressure-filled sports spectrum simply ramps up national pride.
The punctuation mark on that passion arrives when an athlete stands atop the award podium, national anthem echoing, tears welling and gold hanging across the chest. The 2012 Olympics provided plenty of reasons for citizens from each competing country to be proud.
Now that Olympic competition is wrapped up, we do our best to rank the top 10 nations in terms of performance, dominance and relative success in London.
10. South Korea
Athletes competing: 260
Medals won: 28 (13 gold, 8 silver, 7 bronze)
Here's some free advice: Avoid a duel with South Korean Olympians at all costs. The nation cleaned up in shooting, fencing and archery competition, where it earned 15 of its 28 total medals.
The success started early, when South Korean archer Im Dong-hyun made headlines for his performance in the opening round of the 72-arrow competition. The legally blind Olympian compiled a world record-setting score of 699.
He would help guide South Korea to a men's team bronze. Ki Bo-Bae, meanwhile, led the South Korean women's archery team to a gold medal and earned individual gold.
South Korea finished third in the men's soccer tournament, taking bronze, and Yang Hak-Seon secured individual gold in the men's vault final, giving the country its first-ever Olympic title in gymnastics.
Athletes competing: 55
Medals won: 12 (4 gold, 4 silver, 4 bronze)
The small island nation makes this list purely because of its continued dominance on the track field in sprint competition. Following a brilliant performance at the 2008 Beijing Games, the short-distance runners of Jamaica continued to leave the globe's elite in their wake in London.
Led by the incomparable Usain Bolt, Jamaicans conquered sprinting action once again. Bolt blazed a new Olympic trail by becoming the first man in history to repeat as champion in both the 100- and 200-meter dash.
The 25-year-old cemented his legacy as the greatest sprinter of all time and anchored Jamaica's 4x100 relay squad, which set an Olympic record on its way to a second consecutive gold medal.
"What else do I need to do?" Bolt exclaimed. "I've done everything possible in my events."
Jamaica's Yohan Blake, nicknamed "The Beast" by Bolt, may have played second fiddle during these Summer Games, but he deserves his share of adulation. Blake was a member of the 4x100 relay squad and secured silver in both the 100- and 200-meter sprints, following directly behind Bolt.
Female sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce won gold in the 100-meter dash and took silver in 200m competition. She also helped lead the Jamaicans to a silver medal in the women's 4x100 final.
Since the 2008 Olympics, Jamaicans are 7-for-8 in men's and women's individual sprints. The nation's monopoly on gold continues, and it's up to the rest of the world to figure out how to best mitigate the trend before the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
Athletes competing: 346
Medals won: 34 (11 gold, 11 silver, 12 bronze)
France did not dominate in any singular sport, but it put on a well-rounded Olympic performance.
Highlighted by Yannick Agnel's three medals, French swimmers secured seven medals. Agnel won gold in the 200-meter freestyle and helped France secure silver and gold medals in the 4x200 freestyle relay and 4x100 freestyle relay, respectively.
Florent Manaudou claimed gold in the 50m freestyle, becoming the new fastest swimmer on earth.
He touched the wall at 21.34 seconds, beating out American silver medalist Cullen Jones (21.54) and ending the reign of defending champion Cesar Cielo of Brazil, who placed third.
Manadou's older sister, Laure, earned gold in the 400m freestyle at the 2004 Athens Games. They are the first brother-sister duo to win swimming gold in Olympic history.
"It all began with my sister in 2004 when she won the 400 free, and then there was Alain Bernard and others in the 50 free and the relay," Florent Manaudou told the Associated Press. "Now we're a great swimming nation and I hope it will continue."
The men's handball squad won the Olympic tournament, while Renaud Lavillenie finished first in the men's pole vault final.
Athletes competing: 431
Medals won: 35 (7 gold, 16 silver, 12 bronze)
As expected, Australia's greatest performances occurred in the pool.
Led by Alicia Coutts' five medal finishes, the Aussies earned 10 total medals during swimming competition. The Australian women won medals in both freestyle relay competitions, setting a new Olympic record in the 4x100 race.
Its aquatic success carried over into the sailing spectrum. Led by the men's 470 tandem of Matthew Belcher and Malcolm Page, Australian sailors secured three gold medals and a silver, while its rowers earned five podium finishes (three silver, two bronze).
Cyclist Anna Meares finished first in the women's sprint final and wound up with two medals. Hurdler Sally Pearson won a gold medal in the women's 100-meter hurdles.
The Australian women's water polo team took bronze in the Olympic tournament.
Athletes competing: 307
Medals won: 38 (7 gold, 14 silver, 17 bronze)
The Japanese islands made a monumental impact in Olympic wrestling, winning four golds and two bronzes on the mat.
America's women's soccer program prevented Japan's national team from claiming gold, but the squad still nabbed silver. Boxer Ryota Murata took 78 kg title.
National gymnastics hero Kohei Uchimura led Japan to a second-place finish in the men's team final. He also earned individual medals in the all-around (gold) and floor exercise (silver) final.
Uchimura is now a five-time Olympic medalist.
Japan's swimming program accounted for 11 total medals. Those efforts were led by Ryosuke Irie and Satomi Suzuki, who each earned three medals apiece.
Athletes competing: 418
Medals won: 44 (11 gold, 19 silver, 14 bronze)
Germany excelled in team competition these London Games.
The men's field hockey program defeated the Netherlands to defend its Olympic title. A 2-1 victory gave Germany its fourth gold medal in the event.
The duo of Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann won gold in the men's beach volleyball tournament, unseating reigning champs Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser of the U.S. The tandem beat the top-seeded Brazilian team in the gold medal match.
The men's eight rowing team took gold, and the Olympic equestrian program earned four medals, including two gold.
Robert Harting earned gold in men's discus and then turned into the Hulk by shredding his shirt in celebration.
Gymnast Marcel Nguyen was fantastic. The 24-year-old won silver medals in the men's all-around and parallel bars final.
4. Great Britain
Athletes competing: 586
Medals won: 65 (29 gold, 17 silver, 19 bronze)
The Olympic host's heralded cycling program overcame a disappointing start to enjoy a sensational Summer Games. Laura Trott earned two gold medals, as did Jason Kenny and national hero Sir Chris Hoy.
Mo Farah emerged as among the country's greatest all-time track performers. The 29-year-old took top honors in both the men's 5,000- and 10,000-meter races.
Brits collected nine medals in rowing and added five more in sailing competition. Triathlete Alistair Brownlee earned gold in the men's triathlon, with his brother Jonathan taking the bronze.
Sailor Ben Ainslie, competing in his fifth Olympic Games, won his third successive gold medal in finn competition. He is now the most decorated British sailor of all time.
Tennis star Andy Murray avenged a loss to Roger Federer at the 2012 Wimbeldon tournament by defeating the world's top-ranked player in straight sets in front of a raucous home crowd for the men's singles title.
Although Rebecca Adlington failed to defend her Olympic titles in the 400- and 800-meter freestyle finals, she still managed to claim bronze in each event. Gymnast Louis Smith helped Great Britain secure a bronze medal in team competition and won an individual silver in the pommel horse final.
This was undeniably an impressive all-around performance for Team GB as the hosts. The medal total of 65 is the nation's highest since the 1908 Olympics, which were also held in London.
Athletes competing: 475
Medals won: 82 (24 gold, 25 silver, 33 bronze)
The 2012 Games represented Russia's third-highest medal haul since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The nation's women's gymnastics program rebounded quite nicely from a disappointing performance four years ago and showed signs of a true renaissance in the sport.
The program was shut out at the 2008 Games in Beijing, when China, the U.S. and Romania placed first, second and third, respectively. The country dominated women's gymnastics for decades of Olympic competition, and it's been intent on rebuilding the program since the fall of the Soviet Union.
One day after taking silver in the women's gymnastics team finals, Russian gymnasts Aliya Mustafina and Viktoria Komova earned bronze and silver, respectively, in the individual all-around.
Mustafina went on to win individual medals in uneven bars (gold) and floor exercise (bronze), leading all Russian Olympic athletes with four medals.
The Russian men's volleyball squad secured gold with a victory over heavily favored Brazil in the final. And, per usual, the nation's wrestling program excelled, winning 11 total medals.
Although we saw the end of Yelena Isinbayeva's Olympic run on gold in the pole vault (she settled for bronze this time around), the Russian track and field team took home 18 total medals.
Athletes competing: 412
Medals won: 87 (38 gold, 27 silver, 22 bronze)
China failed to duplicate the magnificent medal haul of 2008, when it won 100 medals while playing hosts. However, it was another powerhouse performance for the Chinese Olympic program, which appears to have emerged at the United States' most significant Summer Games rival since the Soviet Union.
The catalyst of China's success was 16-year-old swimming prodigy Ye Shiwen, who was an absolute force in the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys.
She surged to victory in both races, establishing new Olympic records in each event. Her time of 4:28.43 in the 400 IM set a new world record.
Though there were some distasteful questioning comments thrown her way, Ye's dazzling performance should help China move past its swimming program's checkered past with performance-enhancing drugs (particularly in the 1990s).
“My achievements derive from diligence and hard work, I will never use drugs,” said Ye, as quoted by the Washington Post. "Chinese athletes are clean. The Chinese team is extremely strict on doping control, so I can assure you that is not an issue with us."
China racked up 20 medals between swimming and diving. Gymnast Zou Kai collected three medals, including two gold (one of which was a team title).
Track and field remains a bit of a shortcoming for this otherwise mighty Olympic nation. China earned five medals in that spectrum, including a 20-kilometer racewalk gold for Chen Ding, but that wasn't nearly enough to challenge the top nation on our list...
1. United States
Athletes competing: 539
Medals won: 104 (46 gold, 29 silver, 29 bronze)
The U.S. soared to the top of this list with sterling performances in the Olympics' signature athletic spectrums—swimming and track and field. American competitors tallied 60 total medals between the two diverse disciplines, as legendary performers rose to the occasion and newcomers arrived on the scene with authority.
The U.S. secured at least a silver medal in every event it participated in aside from fencing and taekwondo. The nation's 46 gold medals are its third-greatest Summer Olympics haul in history (behind only the 1904 and 1984 Games).
Of course, the conversation starts with swimmer Michael Phelps. The 27-year-old became the most decorated Olympian in history in London, as he added four golds and two silvers to his record-setting medal count of 22 (18 gold).
As Phelps said farewell to Olympic competition, we caught an impressive glimpse of the future of American swimming. Missy Franklin, 17, earned four gold medals, and 15-year-old Katie Ledecky shocked the global swimming community with a first-place finish in the grueling 800-meter freestyle final.
Other American swimming stars included Allison Schmitt and Ryan Lochte, who each won five medals.
In track and field action, Allyson Felix secured three gold medals. The Los Angeles native overcame her Jamaican rivals in the 200-meter dash and helped lead the U.S. to relay victories in both the 4x100 and 4x200 relays. Fellow female sprinting standouts Carmelita Jeter and Sanya Richards-Ross also earned gold medals.
In team athletics, the women's soccer team and women's water polo team emerged as gold-medal winners in their respective tournaments. The historically great duo of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh won an unprecedented third consecutive gold medal in women's beach volleyball competition.
The U.S. men's basketball program, coached by the legendary Mike Krzyzewski, defeated Spain to complete its mission for a second straight gold medal. And an unforgettable group of gymnasts, including all-around gold medalist Gabby Douglas, secured top honors in the women's gymnastics team final.
The 2012 Olympics featured a truly a golden performance by the U.S.