London (Olympics) Calling

It wasn’t just Usain Bolt who became a household name at the 2012 Olympics.

by Jonathon Gatehouse

Julian Finney/ Getty Images

Olympic gold?

Speechless When trampolinist Rosie MacLennan of King City, Ont., won Canada’s first (and only) Olympic gold, the 23-year-old was shell-shocked: “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do?” The answer is: everything. She’s been celebrated at centre court by the Raptors, introduced an author at the Giller Prize ceremony, and was an honoured guest at the Gold Medal Plates fundraiser for Olympic athletes in Ottawa (her medal in an elegant clutch purse). She’s now an ambassador for the Level the Field campaign to show “how play can create brighter futures for children everywhere,” she says.

Hang Time

Boris Johnson doesn’t appear fit for office—or anything else, really. Permanently dishevelled, gaffe-prone and coiffed almost as preposterously as Donald Trump, the former journalist is, in a word, shambolic. But Londoners have a soft spot for their clownish mayor, and by the end of the Games so did the rest of the world. Despite dire predictions about everything from transit chaos to labour strife, the party went off without a hitch—except the moment when “BoJo” somehow got stuck midair on a zipline. And now there’s serious talk he might eventually replace David Cameron. Stranger things have happened.

Pure Inspiration

Oscar Pistorius is among the fastest 400-m runners in the world. Quick enough to make South Africa’s Olympic squad, then come second in his heat in London, before bowing out in the semifinals. These are essential truths that sometimes get lost in the hype and controversy over the fact that he does it all on carbon-fibre blades. The double-amputee had to fight long and hard for his chance to race against able-bodied athletes. And while he didn’t win, he scored a victory for himself, and all of sport, just by being there.

That Effing Ref

It was a game for the ages, a women’s soccer semifinal where the upstart Canadians were giving the No. 1-ranked Americans all they could handle, taking the lead three times on the strength of a Christine Sinclair hat trick. Then, with the team just minutes away from a shot at gold, Norwegian referee Christina Pedersen decided to lend the Yanks a hand. First she ignored an obvious call against the U.S., then followed up with a rare delay-of-game penalty to the Canadian keeper that led to the goal that tied the game. When the Americans capitalized in the dying seconds of extra time and snatched victory with a header, Team Canada was outraged, and so were their fans back home. It was the end of Pedersen’s Olympics—and if the world is lucky—her international career. But Canada did get a measure of comfort, beating France for the bronze.

Jump up, Jump up

Derek Drouin won three NCAA high jump titles, but he was far from a favourite to win in London. The 22-year-old Corunna, Ont., native had missed most of the season recovering from torn ligaments in his foot and barely made the Games. But when the rainy evening competition finished, his leap of 2.29 m—six centimetres below the national record—left him in a three-way tie for bronze, giving Canada its first high jump medal since 1976. No small accomplishment.

Heartbreak along the road

It was painful to watch but surely far more excruciating to live. Edmonton’s Paula Findlay became a medal favourite in women’s triathlon after her breakout 2010 and 2011 seasons on the World Cup circuit. But her training in the run-up to the Games was compromised by a painful hip injury (and, as it later turned out, undiagnosed anemia). When the gun went off at London’s Hyde Park, there was no magic, only suffering. By the final run stage, the 23-year-old found herself hobbling in dead last. Yet she continued, willing her way to the finish through tears and gritted teeth. Findlay apologized for disappointing Canadians, but she needn’t have. She won the gold for guts.

Packs a punch

Katie Taylor stands five foot five and weighs 132 lb., but she proved more than strong enough to carry a nation’s hopes. The unassuming Irish boxer, who is coached by her father, captured her country’s first gold since 1996 at the London Games as her delirious fans set noise records in the ExCel Centre. Back home, the country shut down to watch her final medal bout against Russia’s Sofya Ochigava. It’s surely only a matter of time before her story becomes a Hollywood movie.

The Crying Games

There’s disappointment and then there are temper tantrums. Korean fencer Shin A Lam thought she had won her semifinal against Germany’s Britta Heidemann, the defending Olympic champion. But she failed to notice the referee had added another second to the clock, allowing her opponent to score the match-sealing point. Afterwards a stunned Shin sat on the piste crying, and refused to move for more than an hour. It was only after all appeals were exhausted that she reluctantly agreed to abandon the field of play and let the tournament continue. Good thing there’s a protective tip on those épées.

The Night the Earth Moved

Like all discus throwers, Robert Harting is not a small man. Still, the six-foot-seven, 280-lb. German proved himself surprisingly agile after setting a new world record and clinching gold in London. After ripping off his shirt à la Hulk Hogan, he wrapped himself in his national flag and ran the hurdles that had been set up for an upcoming women’s 100-m race. It wasn’t pretty—think of an elephant tap dancing—but it was impressive. A truly epic celebration.

Mobot Love

Distance running is not usually counted among the sexy Olympic track events—it’s the sprinters and hurdlers who traditionally get the glory. But Mohamed Farah became a bona fide superstar after giving the home crowd golds in the 5,000-m and 10,000-m on consecutive Saturday nights. Somali-born but now proudly British, the 29-year-old with the infectious grin also became an instant symbol of a new, more diverse Mother England. And his signature “Mobot” salute turned into the fad of the Games.

Pain and Progress

After winning a Beijing bronze in the 1,500-m—the longest and most gruelling race in the pool—Ryan Cochrane decided that he had to embrace the pain to get better. So the University of Victoria student spent the next four years training himself to the point of exhaustion and illness. In London all the hard work paid off as he shaved one second off his time and climbed a step on the podium to silver. To win gold in Rio in 2016, and beat world record holder Sun Yang of China, will take even more lung-busting effort. But Cochrane is already back in the pool, swimming himself dizzy.

The Greatest

It was a long shot—after all, she’d been away from cycling for more than a decade—but when it comes to Clara Hughes there is always hope. The 40-year-old’s decision to return to the sport that netted her two bronze medals in Atlanta (before she turned speed skater and captured four more, including a gold, over three Winter Games) provoked a lot of interest. And in London she fought valiantly, placing fifth in the time trial. Maybe it would have ended differently if she had had more time to recover from the cracked vertebrae she suffered in an early season crash. But Hughes was never one for excuses. And it’s that, not just the six medals, that made her Canada’s greatest Olympian ever.




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