From Bolt to badminton – the best and worst of Olympics 2012

Every Olympic Games has its winners and losers, not just among the athletes and competing nations, who stand out from the crowd and take the praise or punishment as the host city steps into the limelight.


Volunteer lady
"I listened to the Olympics from outside and I heard a bit. It was faint but I still heard it. I heard them having fun and celebrating and I felt happy inside. I felt a warmth in my heart and I carried on".

Sitting on a chair directing spectators, armed with a megaphone and a deliciously deadpan delivery, Volunteer Lady proved a YouTube sensation as she intoned "I cannot contain my excitement". More than 1.6-million people clicked on the clip. The exceptional volunteers were a feel-good story of the Games.

Michael Phelps
Winner of a record eight golds in Beijing four years ago, the man with the Midas touch heads into retirement with another haul to take his tally to 18 golds and 22 medals. The world's greatest swimmer can now lay claim to be the most-decorated Olympian.

Phelps left London knowing the President of the United States has his mobile number on speed dial. He achieved everything he set out to do. Did he pee in the pool? Of course he did.

Usain Bolt
He talked, he danced, he ran and he made friends with the Swedish women's handball team – three of whom were photographed with him in the early hours after his 100 metres gold.

'Lightning' Bolt, the great showman of the track, entered the history books as the only man to do the double-double after defending his 100 and 200 metres crowns. He then made it a three-peat with relay gold. The gangly 25-year-old may get faster and will definitely get richer. He has every chance of banking in excess of $20 million a year.

The first Twitter Olympics, with the highs and lows and everything in between, all chronicled in 140 characters or less.

Woman Athletes
Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani. You may struggle to remember the name, and she lasted just 80 seconds on the judo mat, but the shy 17-year-old's presence was felt around the world as the first Saudi woman to compete at an Olympics.

London was the first Games with women in every national team and competing in every sport. Women's boxing was such a success on its debut that there may be double the medals next time.

Bradley Wiggins and British cycling
'The Modfather' of cycling, a man of musical taste whose sideburns triggered a craze for cut-out cardboard replicas worn by fans lining the road and shouting 'Here Wiggo'. Winner of the Tour de France ('Allez Wiggo'), the people's hero won the time trial to claim a fourth career gold and become briefly the most decorated British Olympian with seven medals.

Fellow cyclist Chris Hoy later pedalled ahead of him on 'gold difference' with his seventh medal, and sixth gold. It provided 'Hoy Joy' for headline writers overcome by the 'Hoy Wonder' and determined to trumpet Britain's 'Pride and Hoy'.

Flag sellers
In fact the sellers of anything to do with Team Great Britain, as the host nation celebrated its most successful Games since 1908 with a medal bonanza and more golds being racked up than even the oldest of citizens could remember. Even 101-year-old torch relay runner Fauja Singh was not born last time that happened.

Seb Coe
The chairperson of the Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG). True to form as a double Olympic 1 500 metres champion, he got into his stride early and barely put a foot wrong in a Games that had the athletes centre stage.

Presiding over a great Olympics has undoubtedly boosted his hopes of becoming the next president of athletics' world governing body IAAF. Eventual membership of the International Olympic Committee is also surely a matter of time.

Boris Johnson
Despite being left dangling from a zipwire and suffering the ire of cab drivers before the Games, as well as retailers who accused him of frightening off shoppers with his booming warnings across the underground rail system of potential transport snarls, the maverick mayor has been a constant cheerleader for London and provided some of the memorable soundbites.

Bullish and boisterous, Boris has ridden a wave of 'Olympomania' and been rewarded by popularity polls that, if not putting him 'zoink' off the fever scale, have left him well clear of any other Conservative politician. He teased the French, charmed the Queen and even had a haircut.

"Good evening, Mr Bond". Rarely can four words uttered by Queen Elizabeth have caused such delight. Her Majesty had a good Games, appearing in her first film role and then formally opening the show. One had fun.

Her daughter and grand-daughter got in on the act, the former presenting the latter with an equestrian silver medal, while Princes William, Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge never seemed to have any problems getting tickets for the main events.


The failure of the world's largest security firm to provide a promised 10 400 guards caused a political storm and wiped $1.1-billion off its market value as well as losing it up to 50-million pounds ($78.45 million) on the 284-million pound contract.

"Many would take the view that the reputation of the company is in tatters," one parliamentarian told company chief executive Nick Buckles. "I think, at the moment, I have to agree with you," he replied.

Australian swimmers (and the Brits too)
'The Missile' missed its target. James Magnussen had the celebratory tattoo of Olympic rings all planned but the 100-metres freestyle title slipped through his fingers by 0.01 of a second.

The Australians won 10 medals in the pool and immediately ordered a review into what went wrong. Britain, with a far greater population, took just three but masked that failure by crowing about all their other successes elsewhere.

Nay-sayers and doom-mongers
Remember how they said the trains wouldn't work, traffic gridlock was inevitable, the opening ceremony would make Britain a laughing stock, London would be turned into Siege City and chaos was guaranteed? Hands up if you were one of them.

The expulsion of eight Chinese, Indonesian and South Korean players for deliberately throwing away their matches to secure a better run to the medal rounds will leave a sizeable scar on the sport. Those kicked out after the farcical scenes included China's world champions Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli.

The British taxpayer
The Games cost Britain around 9-billion pounds and were still talked of in terms of austerity. The main stadium has yet to find a tenant for after the Games and there is still the possibility of a White Elephant lumbering into view. The citizens of Montreal called their Olympic Stadium 'The Big O'. It turned into 'The Big Owe'. Enjoy the party.

Yelena Isinbayeva
A failure only in relation to what she has achieved in the sport. The Russian had set pole vault world records in her previous two Olympic finals and was going for a third successive title but American Jennifer Suhr failed to read the script and beat her. Isinbayeva ended up with the bronze.

London shopkeepers and cab drivers
Shops in central London and the West End, usually chock-full of shoppers, reported empty aisles while restaurants lamented vacant tables as locals and tourists avoided the area in the first week of the Games and commuters worked from home. The arrival of thirsty swimmers, rowers and others who had finished their events provided a late boost for nightclubs, however.

The drivers of London's famed black cabs, never short of an opinion or three, were unhappy with 'Zil Lanes' for VIPs hitting their earnings. One dived off Tower Bridge in protest, which will give him plenty to talk about to future passengers.

Drug cheats
Dopey dopers are always losers. In London, 11 were eliminated from competition either by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or national federations since the start of the competition period on July 16. Italy's 2008 race walk champion Alex Schwazer owned up to injecting EPO after flying to Turkey and buying it over the counter from a pharmacist.

Umbrella vendors
The sun actually shone some of the time. After fears of torrential downpours, following one of the wettest months on record, and worries about the opening ceremony being a washout, Londoners enjoyed their own golden moments. Yes, it did rain – it would not be London without – but Andy Murray won at Wimbledon with the roof open.

The great British loser
Heroic failures and plucky losers be gone. Britons looked around and found they quite liked winning. Often. The cartoon of a man banging his television set because it had not shown a British winner for 20-minutes and therefore must be faulty summed it up.

"Brits historically got used to being the plucky losers," said Chris Hoy, the country's most successful Olympian after celebrating his sixth gold. "It is like it is almost inevitable that the Brits are going to be beaten at some point and I think that is starting to change." – Reuters.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Journey through anxious Joburg

A new book has collected writing about the condition of living, yes, with a high crime rate, but also other, more pervasive existential urban stresses particular to the Global South

Covid-19 vaccines offer hope as world leaders plan for future

Hopes over Covid-19 vaccines have given a boost to virus-weary citizens across the globe, but the disease remains rampant and world leaders are urging people to be patient

Extract from ‘The Journey’: Responses to the archive

This sequence of texts was written in response to various photographs of Nigeria made between 1920 and 1929 that form part of the Colonial Office photographic collection

Review: The eternal splendour of ‘Lovers Rock’

Steve McQueen’s ‘Lovers Rock’, part of the ‘Small Axe’ anthology, is an ethereal interlude that takes us inside the blues party bubble

Richard Calland: South Africa needs a Roosevelt style of leadership

President Cyril Ramaphosa needs to hold ‘fireside chats’ and have more power and institutional muscle around him, writes Richard Calland

Akani Simbine’s Olympic dream deferred, not derailed

The sprinter has to wait a year longer to realise his dream of winning gold in Tokyo to make up for narrowly missing out on the podium in Doha

Subscribers only

Dozens of birds and bats perish in extreme heat in...

In a single day, temperatures in northern KwaZulu-Natal climbed to a lethal 45°C, causing a mass die-off of birds and bats

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

More top stories

ATM withdrawal halts no-confidence vote against the president

The party wants the court to rule on the secret ballot issue first, with the case set to be heard in early February

Ruling deals crushing blow to zero-hours contracts

Ferrero factory workers have won the first battle in what might become one of South Africa’s next wars on casual and precarious work

Eusebius McKaiser: Mpofu, Gordhan caught in the crosshairs

The lawyer failed to make his Indian racist argument and the politician refused to admit he had no direct evidence

Corruption forces health shake-up in Gauteng

Dr Thembi Mokgethi appointed as new health MEC as premier seeks to stop Covid-19 malfeasance

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…