London Olympics 2012: The Independent's golden moments

Glover and Stanning kick-started Team GB's gold rush while Farah, Ennis, Wiggins and Hoy added unforgettable scenes. But what was the Games' most defining image? The Independent's sports writers take their pick

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James Lawton: Helen Glover and Heather Stanning

If you are British you have so many choices. If you're a citizen of the world you have one: Usain Bolt enshrining his unique athletic charisma in a second straight Olympics in the most compelling foot race of all, the 100 metres dash.

But then, maybe there is another category against which you place your mark.

It is one occupied by supreme achievers for whom you know, quite instinctively, the greatest accomplishment will no more change their natures, or how they see the world and their place in it, than a passing breeze.

That, most happily at a time when the nation was becoming preoccupied with the need to land a first gold medal, was utterly true of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, who delivered the feat on a hauntingly still and beautiful morning at the rowing lake in Eton Dorney. Stanning, who is a captain in the Royal Artillery, spoke of her fantastic exhilaration, then coolly reported that next month she would be going back to work in Afghanistan. Glover said that she too could not have imagined the feeling that came when the gold was secured after pain-racked defiance of the challenge from Australia and New Zealand.

But perhaps it was Glover's young, admiring sister Freya who best defined the quality that brought Britain's first gold medal. "If I had to describe my sister, it would be that she is the most diligent person I have ever known."

It was a new but quite wonderful way of defining a new champion.

Simon Turnbull: Jessica Ennis

Sitting (or, rather, jumping up and down, breaking the unwritten rule of the press tribune) watching Jessica Ennis complete her Olympic heptathlon mission was a moment truly to savour. Back in the frosty mists of January, there had been precisely 32 of us leaning against a barrier behind the main arena at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield watching the Steel City's finest take part in her first competition of 2012: the shot put at the North of England Indoor Championships.

It was difficult at the time to imagine the kind of pressure that Ennis would have to bear into the home Olympic cauldron. She dealt with the golden expectations of a nation as adeptly as she did with the seven events she had to negotiate.

When the 80,000 crowd erupted as she lined up for the first event, the 100m hurdles, she responded with a stunning time of 12.54sec.

It was the same when she came into the home straight for the final event, the 800m. The 5ft 5in South Yorkshirewoman blew away the opposition. "Jessica Ennis is my new hero," my similarly diminutive daughter texted. "She's like the Terminator." It was true superhero stuff.

Robin Scott-Elliot: Women's 4x100m final

It was Carmelita Jeter's face that clinched it. As she tore across the finish line she pointed the baton at the clock that sits to the side of the track, her eyes widened and the fixed stare of absolute concentration that had accompanied her down the home straight dissolved into a look of pure, unrestrained joy. The clock had stopped at 40.82sec, a world record in the women's 4x100m relay.

It was not just the drama of stopping the clock inside the old mark that lit up the Olympic Stadium; the achievement of Jeter, Allyson Felix, Tianna Madison and Bianca Knight stretches beyond that. These four women wiped clean one of the signature East German landmarks. The GDR's time of 41.37sec had stood since 1985, the peak of the country's systematic doping.

The record was broken on a day when three former dopers, Asli Cakir Alptekin in the 1500m, Tatyana Lysenko in the hammer and the marathon swimmer Oussama Mellouli, won gold, a reminder that the issue of doping remains the greatest threat to Olympic integrity, whatever Jacques Rogge may say.

But it was above all Jeter's delight that in one fleeting but gloriously uplifting moment perfectly captured the natural high of the London Olympics, two weeks of happy sporting achievement.

Steve Tongue: GB Women beat Brazil 1-0

It was tempting to choose the 25-year-old Peter Wilson's final hit in the double trap (clay pigeon) shooting at Woolwich Barracks to win gold from a Swede almost twice his age, and the subsequent emotional embrace with his coach, Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Hasher al-Maktoum of the Dubai ruling family.

But in terms of enduring legacy a different sort of shot will count for more. It was the one that Steph Houghton, the adventurous left-back of Great Britain's women's football team, drove past Brazil's goalkeeper from a difficult angle, rounding off a fine move, which proved the winning goal. There were more than 70,000 watching at Wembley plus some three million viewers on television for whom women's football became a serious option as either spectator sport or participant activity. Worthy as Wilson's effort was, that would be a healthier choice than encouraging anyone to buy a gun.

Alasdair Fotheringham: Sir Chris Hoy

Sir Chris Hoy's triumph in the final round of the keirin of his final Olympics has all the historical connections you could possibly desire. In terms of medals, Hoy is indisputably Britain's greatest ever Olympian, pure and simple. His victory pulled down the curtain on a career instrumental in the rise of British track cycling to world domination and, in terms of British track cycling, it was the ninth and last medal out of a possible 10.

But – and this is the really good bit – as a race the keirin was far from a straightforward blaze into the Olympic sunset: Hoy had to fight every inch of the way for it, fending off Germany's Max Levy after the Scot had forced himself to the front of the string.

However, Levy was not going to give up so easily, inching up and almost past the Scot on the back straight. "I couldn't let his back wheel come past so I drove harder than I'd driven before," Hoy said afterwards and it proved just enough.

The best part lasted a split second: Hoy was so unsure of victory he actually closed his eyes as he lunged for the line. When he opened them, it was to find one last Olympic gold was his. A moment of pure sporting magic.

Alan Hubbard: Gemma Gibbons and Karina Bryant

The medals weren't gold, but the moments were memorably golden. Judo, a sport which has not covered itself in Olympic glory for over a decade and was in danger of losing much of its funding, suddenly discovered two unlikely heroines, both providing moments of great emotion.

First Gemma Gibbons, after winning silver, Britain's first medal on the mat for 12 years, fell to her knees, pointed to the heavens and mouthed: "I love you mum," dedicating the medal to her mother, a single parent who had sacrificed much to foster Gibbons' career but died of leukaemia eight years ago.

Twenty-four hours later heavyweight Karina Bryant, a matriarch of the mat at 33, and Britain's most decorated judoka, finally claimed the Olympic medal that had eluded her at her fourth attempt. It was bronze but, as she said: "It may not be the right colour but it's gold to me."

Judo also provided another singular moment– the appearance of the first female athlete from Saudi Arabia, albeit a fleeting one. Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani lasted only a few seconds longer than it had taken to announce her name but when the nervous teenager placed her foot on the mat it was truly a giant step for womankind in her homeland.

Paul Newman: Bradley Wiggins

When we look back on the 2012 Games in years to come, the salient memories will be of extraordinary British performances and the passion and warmth of the huge crowds. Nowhere did those two elements come together in more spectacular fashion than on the roads of Cobham, Esher, Teddington and Hampton Court as Bradley Wiggins rode into history.

While nothing should detract from the brilliance of Britain's track cyclists, relatively few nations can mount an effective challenge in what has become a high-tech and expensive sport. On the roads technology and expertise can still give you an edge, but the honours are widely shared because the balance is more heavily weighted towards man rather than machine.

Wiggins had become the first Briton to win the Tour de France just 10 days earlier and had worked tirelessly in the Olympic road race, but there was never a sign of fatigue as the 32-year-old won the time trial by 42 seconds from Germany's Tony Martin to earn his seventh Olympic medal and his fourth gold.

Even the sun came out for the end of the race, which was watched by hundreds of thousands who lined the streets in a joyous celebration of the greatest sporting show on earth.

Stuart Alexander: Ben Ainslie

Pure gold, silver gilt, and moments to remember for golden oldies marked the change to stadium-style Olympic sailing in a Weymouth venue which has already been enjoying London 2012 legacy for years.

The pure gold was Charles Benedict "Ben" Ainslie, in full warrior mode, winning a fourth consecutive medal of that colour after a street fight with Denmark's Jonas Hogh-Christensen in the Finn singlehander.

Added to the silver he won in 1996, that means he has a medal collection unrivalled in the history of Olympic sailing.Behind Ainslie stood his coach, David Howlett, whose contribution has been immense.

The relief, joy and respect, even from the man who beat him, were gilded for windsurfing silver medallist Nick Dempsey when he dived off his sailboard and scrambled over the rocks to celebrate with his watching three-year old son, Thomas, after being supported all the way by his double gold medallist wife, Sarah Ayton. He could now go home to be a dad.

And from that same grassy grandstand, The Nothe, came pictures of Australian double gold medallist Malcolm Page's father with his arm around Team GB silver medallist Luke Patience's father, both sharing paternal pride despite the rivalry. Australia, with three golds and a silver, were kings of Weymouth and Portland.

 

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