Olympics 2012: 10 Stars You'll Remember from This Summer
As any former Olympian who's ever had a speaking engagement will tell you, the purpose of the Olympic Games isn't to win medals or set records.
The purpose is be remembered.
So who managed to escape the four-year sinkhole of cyclical anonymity and forever burn his or her likeness into our public consciousness?
But first, a few procedural notes.
1) We're writing this from an American sporting perspective. I know David Rudisha will long be remembered by Kenyans and running aficionados. We do not speak for those groups.
2) We aren't including athletes who either made their mark at previous Olympiads (Bolt, Phelps, etc.) or those who were already famous (LeBron James, Andy Murray, etc.).
3) Employees must wash hands after using the restroom.
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A not-so-bold prediction:
Missy Franklin will occupy approximately 75 percent of your female-swimming related thoughts over the next decade.
Not only is the 17-year-old uncommonly talented—as her four gold medals will attest—but she's possessed of a star quality rarely found in athletes so young.
She's gracious, gritty, articulate and excitable—a powder keg of positive attributes.
Someday soon her personality will take a back seat to her accomplishments, but for now, her universal likability is almost certain to keep her in the media limelight.
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If we're being honest, there's a bit of novelty in this choice.
When someone runs an Olympic track event on carbon-fiber blades, we're going to catalog that someone in our memory, regardless of context.
That said, South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius went so much further with the "first amputee to compete in an Olympic track event" title than any of us could have anticipated.
Through his achievements, his grace and his piercing intellect, Pistorius forced us to reevaluate the entire notion of "disability." We weren't simply watching an athlete run funny, we were connecting with a human story.
And based on what I saw and heard from him in London, I've little doubt that Pistorius will continue to serve as an inspiration for generations to come.
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Do we even need the last name anymore?
The moment she won the individual all-around title and beamed her now-famous smile across television airways, Gabby had secured a place alongside Mary Lou and Nadia in the court of women's gymnastics royalty. Even in a sport where every champion gets her 15 minutes, Gabby instantly felt more permanent.
She is, as all stars must be, at ease in front of the camera, blessed with the kind of radiant charm and unassuming wit that plays well with coiffed media men and tween fans alike.
In short, Gabby isn't like most 16-year-olds.
And for that reason, you can count on seeing Gabby in various forms and on various commercial items over the next Olympic cycle.
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I come bearing proof that David Boudia's shocking win in the men's 10-meter platform competition has nudged him into the sphere of cultural relevancy.
Entertainment Weekly filed a report on him.
According to the folks at EW.com, Boudia listens to AC/DC, reads spiritual books and watches Modern Family.
Good to know.
Even better to know that the man who delivered perhaps the upset of these Games—overtaking heavily favored Chinese diver Qiu Bo on his final attempt to secure America's first gold medal in the event since 1988—has piqued public interest.
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Though his Olympics didn't go quite according to script in the pool, Ryan Lochte had little problem augmenting his Q-rating.
He plans to return for Rio, which means more Lochte-mania is on its way.
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Oh that face, that wonderful, wonderful face.
With a sideways glare and a pair of folded arms, 16-year-old McKayla Maroney went from disappointed silver medalist to Internet phenom.
The whole affair started when Maroney was forced to settle for silver in the women's vault final, an event she expected to win with ease. Predictably disappointed, Maroney flashed a scowl or two on the medal stand.
A photographer caught one of those scowls in the height of its scowliness, and a meme was born: "McKayla Maroney is not impressed."
Suddenly, through the miracle of Photoshop and hastily-organized tumblrs, we could see Maroney not being impressed by any number of things: the Beatles, the Founding Fathers, panda bears.
On it goes, carrying this one-time vault specialist into the hallowed grounds of Internet immortality.
Those Badminton Buffoons
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OK, so you won't remember their actual names. But I guarantee you will remember watching two women's badminton teams—one from China, the other from South Korea—submit the most laughable excuse for athletic performance ever witnessed.
The score was simple: Both teams wanted to lose in order to secure a better draw in the knockout round, and they didn't care who knew.
The resulting farce prompted badminton officials to toss both teams from the tournament along with two other teams accused of similar transgressions.
Adding to the drama, one of the players involved, Chinese star Yu Yang, retired after receiving word of her expulsion.
Truth is, this kind of thing happens all the time.
Spain rested its players in the final game of pool play during the men's basketball tournament so as to avoid a potential semifinal matchup against Team USA. Japan pulled a similar ploy in the women's soccer tournament.
Match-fixing is nothing new, but I suppose we all learned to be a bit more coy about it. You know, in the Olympic spirit.
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As Mo Farah ran to victory in the men's 5,000 meters, one could sense something special was happening.
Of course, there were the rote historical facts.
Farah was becoming just sixth man ever to win the 5,000- and 10,000-meter runs in one Olympic Games, and doing it in front of a home crowd.
But even beyond that, there was a certain magical quality to Farah. The Somali-British runner had a presence, represented by some amalgamation of his ebullience, his excellence and that oddball, YMCA-ish trademark gesture he'd concocted.
He was more fun to watch than any distance runner in recent memory, and for that reason, a lot more memorable.
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Jordan Burroughs' gold-medal victory in the men's 74 kg (163 lbs) freestyle wrestling division, while admirable, isn't the reason he makes this list.
Burroughs is a nominal Olympic star today. But my money says he'll be a global MMA superstar tomorrow—whenever that tomorrow arrives.
Burroughs, 24, is the type of athlete and personality that seems custom-made for the burgeoning world of mixed martial arts. He talks big and he walks big—classic cage mentality.
He says he'll try to defend his Olympic title in 2016, but after that, it would seem all avenues are open.
A decade from now, you'll know the name Jordan Burroughs—you just might not know him as an Olympian.
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On running merit, this spot belongs to sprinter extraordinaire Allyson Felix.
But fame isn't doled out on running merit.
Fame is doled out by some combination of achievement, narrative, personality and intangible appeal. And Lolo Jones has the right stuff.
Jones didn't win a medal at the 2012 London Olympics. Heck, she hasn't won a medal in her Olympic career.
She is, however, a fascinating and surprisingly vulnerable public figure who seems to have an uncommon hold on public attention.
And with the news that she plans to keep running through Rio 2016, it appears we'll be talking about her for the foreseeable future.