Lasting impressions from London Games

What will be your lasting memory of the 2012 Olympic Games?

Women's dominance solidified

By Kate Fagan

In Beijing, we had Michael Phelps' exuberance in that final relay victory. In Atlanta, we had Kerri Strug's vault. But what is that one signature image from London?

Michael Steele/Getty Images

Carmelita Jeter anchored the 4x100-meter relay team that smashed a 27-year-old world record and earned one of the 58 medals the U.S. women brought home.

I'm not sure there is one.

What we have instead is a handful of cool moments that, when put together, will remind us of just how much fun these Games were. We'll have the gold-medal victory in team gymnastics from the U.S. women (not to mention the "not impressed" Tumblr inspired by McKayla Maroney), the birth of a swimming star in Missy Franklin, the U.S. women's blistering time in the 4x100-meter relay and Usain Bolt's incredible 100-200 repeat.

These Games have reminded us just how successful -- if success is measured in gold medals -- Title IX has been for the United States. American women dominated these Games, in hoops, beach volleyball, soccer and more.

If the Atlanta Games were the "Title IX Olympics" as the first generation of scholarship recipients proved they were also the best on the world stage, then London took it to another level.

When it comes to women's athletics, the world is chasing the United States.

That was proved in London.

Women's toughness leaves positive image

By Jane McManus

Holley Mangold lifted 529 pounds in two lifts with a torn tendon in her wrist. The effort didn't bring her a medal -- she finished 10th -- but it highlighted the fact that women can be fierce and endearing without leotards and hair gel.

In weightlifting, judo and boxing, this Olympics proved women can be athletic even when the soundtrack to "Love Story" isn't playing in the background.

That was the positive from this Olympics. The negative was succinctly discussed by espnW columnist Jackie MacMullan when she asked whether the immense popularity and success of the women at the Games might lead to successful pro leagues, particularly in soccer.

It is unfortunate to think Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy could soon be joined in retirement by Abby Wambach without that barrier being broken. With Alex Morgan, Hope Solo and their golden teammates still vocal and in the prime of their athletic careers, there is time.

As one door opens for women in sports, another remains stubbornly stuck.

Softball's absence most memorable

By Graham Hays

The London Olympics offered a chance to gorge on sports. It was the athletic equivalent of a Thanksgiving spread with many familiar favorites to sample. The fortnight was fabulous from start to finish.

Watching British heptathlete Jessica Ennis close out a gold medal in style, sprinting past the leaders to win the 800 meters when a more modest finish would have sufficed in front of a delirious home crowd brought the biggest smile to my face. The United States-Canada soccer thriller at Old Trafford, controversy and all, captivated me as much as any game I've seen in any setting for any sport. Sprinter Oscar Pistorius and eventual gold-medal winner Kirani James exchanging numbers after a heat in the 400 meters also made my personal podium of great moments.

Showcasing unity, competition and sportsmanship, respectively, those three moments summed up what I want to believe can be true of sports. But for all of that, the lasting memory from London will be of something I didn't see. At a time when every nation was represented by female athletes for the first time and women provided so many of the memories, softball's absence because of the politics of sports still eats away at me.

What Alex Morgan did in solidifying her mainstream stardom, Lauren Gibson could have started as a slugging second baseman with a penchant for seizing the moment, which she showed repeatedly to little attention in her sport's recent world championship. What Christine Sinclair was as revelatory performer for an upstart Canadian soccer team, Danielle Lawrie could have been for an upset-minded softball team. What the French women's basketball team showed as an emerging contender broadening the game's power base, the Netherlands could have shown in softball. It's too good a sport with too many good stories to be denied the stage.

The rivalry between the United States and Japan is old news in the softball world. It played out on the diamond four years ago.

The greatest Olympic memories come in seeing athletes from around the globe competing in the most important competition in their sport. That's what the Olympics were for softball. I enjoyed just about every minute I watched (it helped not watching any boxing or badminton), but the lasting memory will be of something that wasn't there for the first time in my adult life.

London's lack of surprise left lasting impression

By Sarah Spain

As much as I'd like to say Gabby Douglas' smile, the women's soccer team grabbing gold, continued dominance for the U.S. hoops teams or any of the championship moments in beach volleyball, swimming, diving or track and field, my lasting memory of these Olympics can be summed up in the phrase "Spoiler Alert!"

There were complaints about the coverage from day one, as avid fans called for the events to be aired live throughout the day. Many were forced to watch the action live via online video and put spoiler-alert warnings before any commentary on Twitter or Facebook. Those who wanted to learn the outcome of the main events when they aired in prime time had no choice but to stay off the Internet and away from the watercooler.

I still loved watching the action in London, but the element of surprise was never in play. As technology continues to permeate every aspect of our lives, I don't see the Winter Games in Sochi being any different.

U.S. women left their mark in London

By Mechelle Voepel

Overall, these Olympics will stand in my memory for two reasons: The way the American women's fantastic medal haul put an exclamation point on the celebration of Title IX's 40th anniversary and how the preparation by Great Britain made these Games a smashing success.

We'll go with the latter first. In their third time as hosts, the British pulled out all the stops. The facilities were great, highlighting the most beautiful and famous landmarks in London. The financial commitment to the British athletes paid off with 65 medals, 29 of them gold.

The multiple British highlight moments from the middle weekend of the Olympics -- culminating with Andy Murray's gold-medal tennis win at Wimbledon --- was London's proudest few days of sports glory since England's 1966 World Cup soccer triumph.

But Americans could be very magnanimous, because it was a magnificent Olympiad for the United States -- especially the women.

The only real disappointment was that the favored U.S. women's indoor volleyball squad failed to win its first Olympic gold. As well as it played the rest of the tournament, the team fell apart in bizarrely dramatic fashion over the course of the final three sets against Brazil.

Aside from that, there were a lot of top finishes for American women. The basketball team plowed to a fifth consecutive gold. The soccer team had another epic battle, this one against Canada, and rode that dramatic win to a much-anticipated rematch with Japan, this time with a golden outcome. The gymnastics team gold was the most dominating effort by any U.S. women's team at an Olympics. No offense, Magnificent Seven, but you wouldn't have wanted to face the Fabulous Five.

The return to glory for the U.S. women's track and field team cannot be overlooked. Allyson Felix finally fulfilled her true potential and left London with three gold medals. She was part of the signature triumph for the American women in track, as they shattered a 27-year-old world record in the 4x100-meter relay. It was absolutely glorious to watch. No dropped baton this time.

What a handoff our Olympians gave to the American efforts over the next four years in preparation for Rio.

Pistorius' perseverance memorable

By Michelle Smith

My lasting memory will be watching double-amputee Oscar Pistorius run in two events on the track in London. His appearance on the track, making his way around on his prosthetic legs, was one of the most inspiring moments. It was an impressive testament to his perseverance and grace and to the technology that's available. He is an extraordinary athlete and, by all appearances, a man to be admired.

I'm thrilled he fought for his opportunity to compete, because the Games would have been less had he been denied the chance.

Record-breaking relay epitomized Games

By Amanda Rykoff

The 2012 Olympic Games can rightfully be called the women's games, with 58 of the United States' 104 medals won by women. Women dominated many of the Games' storylines, including Missy Franklin's spectacular swimming debut, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman in gymnastics and Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings capping off their career with a third consecutive gold medal. And don't forget about the highly anticipated Spice Girls reunion for the closing ceremonies!

Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps provided great moments and remarkable accomplishments, but it's fitting that my lasting memory of the 2012 Olympic Games involved women dominating their competition -- the United States 4x100-meter relay team absolutely crushed its opponents and eviscerated a world record that had stood since 1985.

I watched in awe as Carmelita Jeter took the baton for the anchor leg and flew to the finish line, pointing at the clock that showed the team had left a 27-year-old world record -- and its opponents -- in the dust. I watched as these four gorgeous, strong, ridiculously fast women gathered in celebration and draped themselves in the American flag. I stood up in my living room and applauded their accomplishment. Then I watched the race approximately 10 more times on my TiVo, just to make sure I hadn't imagined this display of brilliance and speed.

It's why we watch the Olympics. Faster, higher, stronger indeed.

Riding along with all the highs and lows

By Adena Andrews

My lasting memory of the Games will be the jubilation and devastation of the Olympic athletes. Raw human emotion is something we all can understand no matter the language. The German shot putter who went all WWE by ripping his shirt off, the South Korean fencer who broke down and the Kenyan runner who did a little jig for the cameras all spoke different languages, but I understood them. I understood how hard they worked and how much this moment meant. Their cries and celebrations said more than any words could have ever said.

I don't think any of us will ever know the feeling of working your entire life for one moment and having to perform at the top of your game at that moment. But for a few weeks, we got a glimpse into what a lifetime of hard work looks and feels like. The stress and nerves would be enough to make one person collapse or breakout into a spontaneous unchoreographed dance that resembles muscles spasms. I look forward to more celebrations than breakdowns for athletes in 2016.

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