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Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012

ODDS AND EVENS

Taking a look back at the spectacular London Games


LONDON — Before boarding the plane on Wednesday to return to Japan, here are items I scribbled down on paper from the Olympics extravaganza of the past few weeks, days that will always remain in my memory.

Ed Odeven

Great performances aplenty, it's not an easy task to narrow down the list. But here are some of those items.

From Michael Phelps' record-breaking 22 medals, the all-time mark, to Usain Bolt's remarkable show on the track to Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich's surprising triumph in the men's marathon, there were dozens of special highlights every day.

Due to the massive throng of athletes (more than 10,000) to the thousands of accredited journalists on the scene, there was so much to see, read, listen to.

I now present you with an A-Z rundown on some of the top happenings from the 2012 London Games.

A — Admirable.

A lifetime of dedication goes into producing a champion. We witnessed 302 individual and team champions awarded during two-plus weeks.

B — (Lightning) Bolt.

No one has ever seemed to enjoy the spotlight more than the Jamaican sprinter. His repeat triple-double (100, 200, 4x100) is the 21st century's new standard of excellence for athletics.

C — Cycling.

The Brits dominated the competition, hauling in 12 medals (eight golds); No. 1 all-time British medal winner Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and Laura Trott were among the top performers.

D — Disgraceful.

Eight female badminton players were booted out of the Olympics for match-fixing, purposely losing to play weaker foes in the next round.

Also, Nadeshiko Japan coach Norio Sasaki fielded a weaker-than-usual starting lineup and ordered his players to not beat South Africa. The match ended in a 0-0 draw, giving Japan the preferred option to not leave Cardiff for its next match.

It completely went against the spirit of Olympic competition.

E — Excellence.

Give the world's reporters something big and exciting to cover and, for the most part, watch them shine. This was their moment, too.

F — Felix (Allyson).

The Golden Girl of American athletics, Felix responded from a disappointing fifth-place finish in the 100 to cross the finish line first in the 200 and run terrific legs for the triumphant U.S. in the 4x100 and 4x400. A true class act.

News photo
Hero for life: Britain's Mo Farah thrilled the masses by winning the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races in dramatic fashion at the 2012 London Olympics. AFP-JIJI

G, part one — Go Grenada!

It's not every day that a nation with a population of around 110,000 outduels the rest of the world. That happened, though, in London. Kirani James, the 400-meter gold medalist, stunned many by winning the event. And then a national holiday was immediately declared on the Caribbean island.

How cool is that?

G, part two — Great Britain.

The world's eyes were on London — Cardiff, Manchester, etc. — as the Summer Games were staged, and an overwhelmingly positive impression was left on the vast majority of those who watched.

H — Holland.

Dutch fans, dressed in orange, were loud, colorful and omnipresent, it seemed, at every sporting event I attended: archery, badminton, basketball, field hockey, handball, soccer, swimming, tennis, track and field, and volleyball, and many more I watched on TV.

I — IOAs (four Independent Olympic Athletes not representing a nation).

One of them, marathon runner Guor Marial, not able to compete for the land he loves because of its lack of a national Olympic committee, raised awareness for the plight of refugees worldwide and the hardships endured by those in his native South Sudan (it was a part of Sudan when he was born).

Marial, competing in only his second marathon, placed 47th overall. It was a win for the human race.

J — Jessica (Ennis).

The Glamour Girl of the British press, the heptathlon gold medalist gained a permanent place in the hearts of U.K. sports fans with a terrific, two-day performance.

Her all-out effort in the 800, the final heptathlon event, was sensational. Her winning time of 2 minutes, 8.65 seconds sewed up the title, and she went out with a bang.

K — (South) Korea and Kazakhstan.

The nations combined for 41 medals in London, the former hauling in 28.

Not too shabby, eh?

L — Liu's tears.

Liu Xiang, the Chinese 110m hurdler, again saw his body break down in the preliminaries of competition, repeating his Beijing nightmare in the British capital.

No Chinese athlete faces greater pressure to succeed, but again he faced the misery that no one ought to go through twice.

M — Mo (Farah) — who else?

Farah, the Somali-born runner, made a name for himself the old-fashioned way: He worked harder than everyone else and used his natural-born talent coupled with great coaching (Alberto Salazar) to achieve the 5,000-10,000 gold double.

His wife Tania's twins will have welcome-to-this-world gifts — yes, shiny medals — that they'll never forget. Fabulous. The Mo-Bot celebration pose is a fun, refreshing antic, tried by young and old — and even a few cranky sportswriters may give it a whirl. Farah emerged as a great symbol of Britain's melting pot of cultures.

N — New.

New heroes emerged every day at the Olympics. From out of nowhere, for instance, we saw 18-year-old runner Nijel Amos of Botswana (800m silver), taekwondo heavyweight Anthony Obame of Gabon (silver medal), South Africa double amputee sprinter Oscar "Blade Runner" Pistorius (truly inspirational performance), Japan volleyball standout Saori Sakoda (bronze), and Nadeshiko Japan star Yuki Ogimi (silver) displayed skills that made us say "wow" after seeing their exploits.

O — Opening Ceremony.

Wildly creative and celebratory, director Danny Boyle concocted a tour de force that differed dramatically from the atmosphere and show in Beijing four years ago.

P — Phelps.

Look up the word "Superman" in the dictionary, and it would describe what the American swimmer was able to accomplish in the 2004, 2008 and '12 Summer Games.

Q — Queen.

What else would be appropriate to put in this space?

Now in the 60th year of her reign, Queen Elizabeth II's recognition has never been greater.

(Additionally, the rock band Queen, joined by pop diva Jessie J during the Closing Ceremony, was upbeat and entertaining during its "We Will Rock You" performance.)

R — Rudisha (David).

The Kenyan 800-meter runner delivered one of the great individual achievements of the 2012 Games, even if it was overshadowed by the brilliance of Bolt, Phelps and many others.

His run of 1:40.91 showed a masterful competitor at the top of his game. London Olympics chief Sebastian Coe told reporters "it was the most extraordinary piece of running I have probably ever seen. It was the performance of the games, not just of track and field but of the games."

S — Swimming.

A tip of the hat is in order for Japan coach Norimasa Hirai, who has positioned the program to be a success for years to come.

Japan earned 11 swimming medals (three silver, eight bronze) in London, including two individual event medals by both Satomi Suzuki and Ryosuke Irie.

T — Three-peat.

A big round of applause for wrestlers Kaori Icho and Saori Yoshida for winning their third straight gold medals.

U — Uchimura (Kohei).

Like Bolt, the Japanese gymnast cemented his status as one of the living legends of his sport in London. Picking up a gold in the men's all-around final after his three consecutive world championships, Uchimura showcased amazing artistry on the six apparatuses and also led Japan to a silver in the team final.

V — Volunteers.

Hard-working Britons were the driving force behind the London Games' success, some 50,000 in total doing the work behind the scenes to make things run as smoothly as possible.

Throughout the city and Olympic Park, at train stations and in the media workrooms, volunteers were there to help one and all. They smiled, they laughed, they did their jobs with pride and class.

Impressive, indeed.

W — Wonder women.

News photo
Glorious finish: Heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis of Britain excited the home crowd at the Olympic Stadium with her stirring victory in competition's final event — the 800 meters. AP

For young girls, seeing so many positive role models competing — and succeeding — is a wonderful thing.

Give the youth options, expand their views on what occupations and opportunities they can explore and aim to achieve in — from gymnastics (Gabby Douglas) to boxing (Nicola Adams) to running (Meseret Defar) to archery (Ki Bo Bae) to tennis (Serena Williams) to swimming (Missy Franklin, Allison Schmitt), worthy winners, and so many more, including trailblazers from Arab and Muslim nations, were there to be congratulated.

X — (E)xceptional.

The venues were shiny, clean, bright and safe. All the years of planning paid off for the London 2012 organizers.

Y — Yohan (Blake).

"The Beast" couldn't catch Bolt in the 100 or 200, but in finishing second twice to the World's Fastest Man he showed humor, humility and a great competitive spirit.

Z — ZZZs, or lack of it.

There wasn't enough time for sleep for the athletes, coaches, and, yes, a few journalists, I know.

There were events to watch, stories to read (and write) and the entire global sports festival experience to soak up, one memorable moment at a time.



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