Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time after the U.S. cruised to an easy victory in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay to give him his 19th medal and 15th gold. Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina held the record with 18 for 48 years. She and Phelps were tied for an hour after he won silver in the 200-meter butterfly. By the end of the London Games, he had 22 medals, including 18 golds (twice as many as the next closest competitor). During the medal ceremony for his final race, the 4x100-meter medley relay, FINA, swimming's governing body, presented him with a special trophy engraved with the phrase "greatest Olympic athlete of all time."
The North American neighbors put on an intense, physical and thrilling match that literally went down to the wire. Canada's Christine Sinclair pulled off a hat trick to put her team up three times during the match, only for the U.S. to claw back to tie each time. They were 30 seconds from penalty kicks when Heather O'Reilly shot a cross to Alex Morgan, who knocked in a header in the 123nd minute. The win ensured the Americans remain undefeated in Olympic semifinals. They went on to beat Japan, to whom they lost in the 2011 World Cup last year, for their third straight gold and fourth overall.
Move over, Magnificent Seven! The U.S. women's gymnastics team won the country's second team gold in Olympic history and the first since 1996. There was no dramatic, one-footed vault, as the Fab Five led the final from start to finish, hitting and sticking clean and eye-popping routines. They decisively beat Russia, which fell apart on floor exercise, 183.596 to 178.530. Two of its members, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, picked up additional golds in the all-around and floor exercise, respectively, and will be competing in Rio.
Phelps did the seemingly impossible in Beijing: He won eight gold medals in nine days. They didn't all come easily -- there were close calls in two races, including the 100-meter butterfly, in which he beat Serbia's Milorad Cavic by one-hundredth of a second. But when all was said and done in the 4x100-meter medley relay (a race the U.S. men have never lost at the Olympics), Phelps surpassed fellow swimmer Mark Spitz's seven-medal haul from 1972 to become the most decorated athlete at a single Olympics.
The U.S. appeared to be stuck in second place when Lezak jumped in to swim the anchor leg, more than half a body length behind France's Alain Bernard. But after the turn, Lezak engineered one of the most thrilling comebacks ever, drafting off Bernard to pull even and then out-touching him by eight-hundredths of a second. Lezak's time of 46.06 is the fastest 100-meter freestyle split in history. The victory kept Michael Phelps' quest for eight golds alive and was all the more sweet because of Bernard's comments prior to the race that France would "smash" the U.S. Egg, meet face.
The Jamaican sprinter destroyed the field in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes and became the first person to shatter both world records in one Olympics. Bolt received flack for prematurely celebrating before crossing the finish in the 100, but he ran full-out -- and against the wind -- in the 200. He won a third gold and set another world record in the 4x100-meter relay, and defended all three titles in London.
What was supposed to be a great comeback story and historic victory for Hamm -- going from 12th place, after a disastrous fall on the vault, to first place to become the first male U.S. all-around champ -- was marred by human error. Bronze medalist Yang Tae Young of South Korea was incorrectly given a lower start value on his parallel bars routine when the judges misidentified an element. Because the Korean Olympic Committee didn't immediately protest the score, as dictated by the rules, Yang was eventually forced to file an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled two months later that the results will stand.
The Equatorial Guinean swimmer won the hearts of fans worldwide in his 100-meter freestyle heat, which he swam just eight months after first taking up the sport. After the two other swimmers in the heat false-started, Moussambani completed the heat by himself -- arms flailing, water splashing all over -- while fans cheered him on. His time, 1:52.72, was more than two times slower than that of the fastest swimmers. Moussambani coached Equatorial Guinea's 2012 swim team.
Told that the U.S. needed one more vault from her to clinch the gold, Strug, who hurt her left ankle on her first vault, limped into position, ran, performed the vault and landed on one foot before falling to the ground in pain. It turned out the U.S. didn't need her final vault, but her score of 9.712 guaranteed them the gold. Coach Bela Karolyi carried Strug to the medal podium to join the rest of the Magnificent Seven gymnasts as the U.S. women claimed its first gymnastics team gold.
The identity of the final torchbearer is always one of the Olympics' best kept secrets and the honor typically goes to a sports legend. In Atlanta, that was Muhammad Ali. His arm trembling as the result of Parkinson's disease, Ali clutched the torch firmly, held it up and lit the flame, kicking off the Games with an unforgettably moving moment.
For the first time, NBA players were eligible to compete in the Olympics, paving the way for arguably the greatest sports team ever assembled (though Kobe Bryant may feel differently.) The all-star team, which included Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton and Scottie Pippen, obliterated the competition, winning games by as much as 68 points. The closest game? The gold medal game against Croatia, which was only a 32-point beatdown.
Redmond's medal hopes ended when his right hamstring snapped a little more than halfway into his 400-meter semifnal. But instead of stopping, the British sprinter was determined to finish and struggled down the track on one leg, crying in agony. With 75 meters to go, his father, Jim, ran out and helped his son across the line, providing one of the most powerful images in Olympic history. Redmond has since become a motivational speaker and his father served as a torchbearer for the London Games.
FloJo confirmed her status as the world's fastest woman in Seoul, claiming gold in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints, the latter in which she set a world record. That time (21.34) and the world record she set in the 100 at the Olympic trials (10.49) still stand today and have never been seriously challenged. She retired after the Olympics and died 10 years later from an epileptic seizure.
Louganis gave everyone a scare in the 3-meter springboard preliminaries when he clocked his head on the diving board, spilling blood into the pool. He suffered a concussion, but surprisingly rebounded to defend his gold, along with his 10-meter platform gold. Seven years later, the diver revealed that he learned he was HIV positive six months before the Olympics and drew criticism from the United States Olympic Committee, which was concerned that Louganis put his competitors at risk of HIV exposure after his bloody accident by keeping his diagnosis a secret.
Retton ended decades of Eastern European domination in women's gymnastics by becoming the first American to win the all-around gold. She scored two perfect 10s on floor exercise and vault to edge out Romania's Ecaterina Szabó by 0.05 points. The caveat, of course, is that the Soviet Union boycotted those Games. Twenty years later, Carly Patterson became the first American to win the all-around in a non-boycotted Olympics.
Gymnastics perfection had never been achieved until Comaneci, then 14, delivered a flawless uneven bars routine that earned the sport's first perfect 10. Not so perfect? The scoreboard, which was not equipped to display a score of 10.0 and instead listed a 1.00. Comaneci would receive six more perfect scores en route to winning gold in the all-around, balance beam and uneven bars, and a bronze medal on floor exercise. She also earned a team silver. The first Romanian to win the all-around title, Comaneci is also the youngest all-around champion -- a record that, barring a rule change, won't be broken now that the age of eligibility is 16.
Make no mistake: The Cold War is still going on, at least between the 1972 U.S. and Russian basketball teams. The Soviets handed the Americans their first loss at the Olympics since basketball's 1936 debut in a controversial finish full of dodgy calls. After Doug Collins nailed two free throws to put the U.S. up one point with three seconds left, officials allowed the Soviets to inbound three times -- the final one of which came after the Americans were celebrating what they believed was their victory. But the clock was reset and the Soviets scored a buzzer-beater on their third try. The U.S. immediately filed a protest with the International Basketball Federation to no avail. The team refused to accept their silver medals, which still sit unclaimed in a vault in Lusanne, Switzerland. Team captain Kenny Davis has even stipulated in his will that his wife and children can never receive his silver medal after he dies.
During the medal ceremony for the 200-meter dash, Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who won gold and bronze, respectively, raised their fists in a Black Power salute. Though Smith and Carlos were initially criticized for politicizing the Olympics, the gesture has since become symbolic of the civil rights movement. Silver medalist Peter Norman of Australia wore a human rights badge to show his support for Smith and Carlos.
Adolf Hitler had intended for the Berlin Games to be a showcase for Aryan superiority, but it was Owens who schooled him. In one of the most courageous performances in Olympic history, Owens won a then-unprecedented four track and field gold medals -- the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes, the 4x100-meter relay and the long jump -- all the while under Hitler's watchful eye. Hitler reportedly snubbed Owens after his victories, but a German sportswriter claimed in 2009 that Owens showed him a photo of Hitler shaking the athlete's hand after he won the 100. The photo, however, has not surfaced.
Considered one of the best athletes of all time, Thorpe -- who played baseball, football and basketball -- put his versatile prowess on display in Stockholm by snagging gold in the pentathlon and decathlon -- winning eight of the 15 events in both disciplines. But a year later, the IOC stripped Thorpe of his medals after learning that he had played professional baseball, violating the Games' now-defunct amateurism rules. Seventy years later -- and thirty years after Thorpe's death -- Thorpe's medals were reinstated when the IOC ruled that the disqualification came after the 30-day window allowed for protests.