LONDON -- As the Summer Olympics come to a close Sunday night, our experts share their top moments from the Games:
Where to start? A couple of venues stand out: Hearing Big Ben toll while leaving the women's beach volleyball gold-medal game. The leading cyclists sitting on thrones in front of Hampton Court Palace at the road time trials. Getting lost while running the marathon route. Many events stand out: Watching Oscar Pistorius run. Watching Usain Bolt run, and then listening to him talk after the show.
But my favorite moment was watching cyclist Dotsie Bausch win a silver medal as part of the U.S. team pursuit squad at the Velodrome. Bausch is one of those Olympics athletes you hear almost nothing about, but she has a tremendous back story.
While interviewing her in March, she took me on a beautiful 20-mile ride from her home in Irvine, Calif., to the beach, so there was a personal connection when she won.
But what made the moment more memorable? Paul McCartney was at the venue that day, and "Hey Jude" was played over the loudspeaker after the medals were presented and McCartney joined in a very loud, delightful sing-a-long. "Hey Jude" is one of my favorite songs and being there for that gave me such goose bumps, I'm surprised they didn't pull me aside for drug testing.
As I climbed the stairs of the London Aquatics Centre, with beads of sweat pouring down my face, I wasn't really sure what to expect when I arrived at Section 311, Row 27, Seats 109 and 110 that night.
I already knew Dick and DA Franklin after writing a profile of their 17-year-old daughter, Missy, months before. But on this night, emotions were high. Just a few minutes earlier, Missy Franklin had won her first individual gold medal in the women's 100-meter backstroke. She did it just 14 minutes after a semifinal swim in the 200 freestyle, an ultra-quick turnaround that Michael Phelps himself called "ridiculous."
As I got to the Franklin's row, I was lucky to find that the seat next to her parents was open. They asked me to sit. And a few minutes later, I watched tears stream down their faces as they looked to the pool deck below and saw their little girl standing atop the medal podium, a gold medal around her neck.
"As a father, it doesn't get any better than this," Dick said.
A few days later, I knew exactly how he felt. My little girl, who's 5, had spent the past six months stuck in the beginning level of swimming lessons. Some days were good, some days were bad; but overall, she was nervous in the water, scared to trust her teacher and paranoid she might drown.
But all of a sudden, something changed. After watching Franklin, Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Dana Vollmer glide across the water as if it were something they were born to do, her fear was gone. That week, she went to her lesson, and accomplished all the tasks she had struggled with for six months in one 30-minute session. When I asked my wife what had changed, she had one explanation.
"She keeps saying, 'I'm Missy. I'm Ryan. I'm Dana Vollmer,'" my wife told me over the phone. "It's incredible."
Beyond incredible. And certainly my gold-medal moment.
Bonnie D. Ford
On a train platform on my way to the gold-medal rounds of the first women's Olympic boxing event, I came across an entire family from Ireland painting each other's faces in preparation for the lightweight bout between Katie Taylor -- their Katie Taylor -- and Sofya Ochigava of Russia.
I was especially taken by the little boy who had his hair dyed and cheeks emblazoned with the colors of the Irish flag. His mother told him to show me the signs he was holding that spelled out "Katie" in glossy green letters. What I later saw in the ExCel hall was amazing: 10,000 people hanging on every punch and feint by women in a one-on-one contact sport that was banned to those same women in the United Kingdom only 16 years ago. But the sight of a boy convert (I'd guess he was around 10 years old) affected me as much as the physical skill I saw displayed in the ring.
I've been angling to get to Wimbledon since I was a little kid. My mum is British and spoke of the All England Club in the kind of revered, hushed tones usually reserved for the days when all three of her kids were out of the house and she was able to draw a bath and drink a cup of tea uninterrupted.
When I was sent to cover the Olympic gold medal final between Roger Federer and Great Britain's own Andy Murray, I was expecting the seats to be flush with women with parasols and men wearing bow ties and pinstriped suits, like Dick Van Dyke in "Mary Poppins."
Oh, how wrong I was. The staid grass courts were inundated with regular blokes, guys wearing gym shorts and T-shirts with their hats on backwards. They were drinking beer. And belching. I heard babies crying. (I'm sure my mother explicitly told me that no children under age 5 were allowed into tennis' most hallowed grounds.) When Federer took Centre Court wearing a red Team Switzerland tennis shirt instead of the required Wimbledon whites, I'm certain poor Fred Perry was rolling over in his grave.
Me? I kind of liked this Wimbledon. The fans were saucy, yet knowledgeable. Even though the stately gentleman with the deep, royal cadence told them to please be quiet, they kept clapping and cheering unabashedly, "C'mon Andy!" The smattering of Federer fans then felt compelled to respond "Let's go Rog-aa!"
Nothing prepared me for what happened next. Out of nowhere, all those proper British folks stood up and did the wave. And that was my favorite Olympic moment: the day I went to Wimbledon and a Red Sox-Yankees game broke out.
When I look back at the London Games, the moments that make me smile the widest, laugh the hardest and shake my head in disbelief took place off the field, outside the venues and in between competition. They happened on trains, in media workrooms and on double-decker buses. They were (hopefully) never broadcast on international TV.
But the sporting moment I will remember most is watching U.S. forward Abby Wambach score the game-winning goal in the 25th minute of her team's 1-0 win against North Korea. It wasn't the kind of strike that makes SportsCenter's Top Plays, and it wasn't Wambach's most impressive goal of the tournament. But with it, Wambach became the first professional female football player to score a goal at Old Trafford, one of the most storied arenas in the world.
In a country that once banned women's football because, according to the edict banning it in 1921, "it is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged," 30,000 fans, including hundreds of little girls wrapped in U.S. and British flags, watched a female football player score her third goal of the Olympics.
And then they watched Wambach and her teammates do the worm.
I suspect it'll be a long time before I cover another basketball game that's decided by 83 points. Ditto for the idea that a single player on the winning team (Carmelo Anthony, specifically) could score 37 points in 14 minutes. So I'm going to generously look past the fact that Mike Krzyzewski's crew struggled for the next six quarters it played after the somewhat farcical nature of Team USA 156, Nigeria 73. Care to check out that score again? 156-73! Seeing Melo rain in all those 3s in such a short span is going to stick in the memory as much as LeBron James' historic triple-double against Australia or the gold-medal game itself.
On a personal note? Three absolute highlights: 1. Meeting Brazilian legend Oscar Schmidt when he dropped in on a Team USA practice during group play and then watching Oscar and Kobe trade notes. 2. Going to Wimbledon for the first time after a lifetime of waiting for the opportunity and then getting to watch two friends of mine, Israel's Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich, beat Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka in doubles. Dream come true! 3. Just pretending to be an England resident for the past month. Living in my own flat, specifically, for three weeks in East London. It's not Manchester, but it was three of the best weeks I've ever spent in this country in my 15-odd years of visiting England. Frequent rain and 60-degree days in July surely don't hurt the cause when you'd normally be trapped in the triple-digit summer heat of Texas.
Track and field doesn't matter in America anymore, not the way it once did; not the way it did when we knew Wilma Rudolph as well as we know Serena Williams, or when Carl Lewis was as big a summer star as Albert Pujols. Track and field is something we Americans now only turn to during the Olympics, which is a shame because it means we have such limited exposure to the kind of excitement Usain Bolt created here during the second week of these Olympics.
At least 2 million people applied for tickets to be inside Olympic Stadium on the night of the men's 100-meter final because they knew (or at least suspected) Bolt would do something magical, and even if he didn't, the race would have the kind of historic drama that left you weak in the knees.
My favorite moment is the top moment of anyone who was in Olympic Stadium that Saturday night. It took fewer than 10 seconds to play out -- 9.63 seconds to be exact. It lasted from the time Bolt walked onto the track, through his introduction (which has become its own theater), to the time it took him to separate from Jamaican teammate Yohan Blake and defend his Olympic title.
It lasted long enough to conjure up images of Jesse Owens and Bob Hayes in their primes, of summer track meets from New York to Oregon in years gone by, featuring the best pure athletes in the world in the most basic competition man has ever had: a foot race. Thanks to Bolt, the excitement surrounding that race hasn't gone out of style.