London 2012: Thank you, all!

The Independent on Sunday celebrates the the most sensational Olympics ever

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A-Hoy there, Mum!

Chris Hoy's mother, Carol, could hardly bear to watch as her lad became the most successful British Olympian of all time. Her expression as she watched his triumph in the keirin said everything about the emotional exhaustion family members go through: one moment cheering and waving, the next shielding her eyes, too terrified even to look. The keirin is a dangerous event, and Hoy revealed afterwards that his mum always tells him to be safe. We love you, Carol!

Beauty of the Beast

Before the serious business of the sprint finals came the serious showbiz of the runners' introductions. And leading the way, with a lion's roar now being copied from Sheffield to Shanghai, was Yohan Blake, aka "the Beast". He may not have beaten Bolt in either the 100m or 200m races, but here was the new king of the jungle in the playing-to-the-camera contest.

Brotherly love

A lot of people would want to punch their older brother if he took first place to their third in the Olympic triathlon. But not bronze medallist Jonathan Brownlee, who hugged his golden-boy sibling Alistair when he crossed the line. At least everyone will remember your last name, Jonathan.

Fast tracks

For years, Tube travellers have been told that lines are closed "because of the TfL Investment Programme". Londoners would like to thank the Games for its sudden disappearance – which has, incidentally, given so many visitors an entirely misleading impression of travel in the capital.

Arise, Sir Danny

Formerly known as the Oscar-winning director of Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle is now a national hero who gave us cycling doves, dancing suffragettes, five golden rings, the Queen's acting debut and Tory MPs frothing at the mouth about multiculturalism. We smell a New Year's Honour.

BMX slapstick

If Norman Wisdom was a young man today, this would be his event – adults wearing silly, tight-fitting uniforms, and riding what appear to be children's bikes. And not only that, but ample scope for a slapstick crash that upends almost every rider in the field. "Mr Grimsdale!"

Cheers, Bradley!

He spent 87 hours wheeling round 3,500km of France in a yellow jersey, six hours hammering it round London's road race, then delivered the greatest feat ever achieved by a man with sideburns (Victorian era excepted) by smashing the time-trial circuit in crowd-pleasing fashion. Did ever a man deserve a vodka and tonic more than Bradley Wiggins?

Every loser wins

For some people, it's really not the winning that counts but the taking part – including Saudi Arabia's first female track and field athlete, Sarah Attar, who grinned as she made history while coming last in her 800m heat. South Africa's Oscar Pistorius, who also came last in his 400m semi-final, had a very good excuse: he was running with two prosthetic legs.

Help from heroes

Who else can we turn to when the private sector fails? Underpaid and overstretched, the good old British Army stoically laid on security when G4S let us down. They were housed in spartan warehouses, and put bums on seats when sponsors couldn't be bothered to turn up. Three cheers for our lads!

Golden gloves

She was on the cover of our New Review back in March, so we'd like to say we told you so – but Nicola Adams becoming the first woman to win boxing gold was still one of the Games's most uplifting moments. The only people not celebrating was McDonald's, whose sponsorship deal was undermined by the new champ saying that she planned to celebrate by "going to Nando's" – perhaps London 2012's best free advert.

Australia rules?

It gives us no pleasure whatsoever – it really doesn't – to watch competitor after competitor from Australia failing to win so much as a heat. That this once proud nation, that put so much store on sport and beating Poms, should be reduced to … hee, hee, hee, hee, ha, ha, ha, ha, HA, HAAAAGH …

Badminton heroes

There were really two sets of chumps in the badminton. First, the rule-makers who devised such a farcical round-robin format; second, the players who, as a result, deliberately tried to lose matches to gain a favourable next-round draw. So we owe a debt of gratitude to the officials who finally decided that all this was not sporting – and threw four pairs of women's doubles players out of the Games.

Flying start

All hail Lizzie Armitstead, the woman who got Team GB going. The 23-year-old from Otley, Yorkshire, was the first athlete to win a medal for Britain, snaffling silver in the women's road race on the first Sunday. After an 87-mile tour of Surrey in heavy rain, three cyclists had broken away from the peloton for a nail-biting finish on the Mall. Since Lizzie, it's been raining medals.

Back in the saddle

Ten years ago, just mounting the podium would have been a win for showjumper Nick Skelton, who broke his neck training for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. But in 2012, the 54-year-old heroically took gold alongside team-mate Peter Charles, 52, who once ruptured his spinal sheath and broke three ribs and a vertebra. Who said sport is a young man's game?

Five rings? No, one

Team GB's Holly Bleasdale may have finished only sixth in the Olympic pole vault, but she's a winner in the great event of life, thanks to boyfriend Paul Bradshaw. After tears of sporting disappointment came tears of joy as Paul proposed. Holly – you can kiss a medal, but it can't kiss back.

Flowered up

As the Olympics' head gardener, Des Smith was responsible for the 1,000 trees and five football pitches of flowers that so memorably adorn the Olympic Park. In 18 months, he and 100 helpers turned a muddy bog into an Arcadian meadow. The man himself says municipal parks usually look "a bit crap". Not this one.

Big break, fast

The world was wowed by the Grenadian 400m runner Kirani James, who won his country's first gold in 43.94 seconds. So why were we so impressed by the US sprinter Manteo Mitchell's 46-second lap? Because he broke his leg halfway round. He carried on in the 4x400m so as not to let his team-mates down. Now that's what we call Olympic spirit.

Bish bash, Bosch

Much respect to Edith Bosch, the Dutch judo champ who whacked that idiot who chucked a bottle into the stadium as the men's 100m final was about to start. The bronze-medal winner happened to be behind the man who lobbed the bottle. "I hit him on the back with the flat of my hand," she recalls. Lord Coe called it poetic justice that the miscreant was sitting in front of one of the world's top judo players.

Beyond our Ken?

After Wallander, we already knew he could do no wrong, but Kenneth Branagh won the Games's first gold as a late replacement for Mark Rylance, who was forced to withdraw from the opening ceremony following a bereavement. In the guise of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the Belfast-born actor rose to the occasion magnificently, as he declaimed the keynote lines from The Tempest that inspired the whole show: "Be not afear'd/The isle is full of noises..."

All right, Deary?

We've all learned a few things over the past fortnight, among them the rules for keirin, the Japanese cycling race that is paced by a bloke on a motorbike. Step forward Peter Deary, the 65-year-old Mancunian who rides the two-stroke "derny" to start each race. Consistency is key, he says.

Hugger mugger

Henry Caplan, an 11-year-old schoolboy from Chelmsford, was so "overwhelmed with emotion" after Andy Murray beat Roger Federer in the tennis finals that he rushed to embrace the Scottish player, melting the hearts of millions in the process. His father said he didn't know where his boy had gone until the woman next to him pointed to a screen: "I looked up and there he was."

Hyde 'n' seek

With the Serpentine's normally placid waters churned up by swimmers, triathletes and safety craft, and its banks overwhelmed by cheering spectators, we salute the foresight of the Royal Parks in moving the famous lake's resident families of swans to a "holiday camp" in Berkshire before Keri-Anne Payne and co took the plunge. As a spokeswoman said, "a swan being sliced in half by a boat in front of an international audienvce" would not be a good look for London 2012.

Incredible sulk

Who needs a gold medal when you can become an internet sensation? For that is the fate of 16-year-old American gymnast McKayla Maroney, whose "Am I bovvered?" scowl on being given her silver medal raced across the web faster than you can say meme. "I was disappointed in myself, not the silver medal," she later pointed out.

Oh Feck!

Humiliatingly described as "the first calamity" of the Games, German diver Stephan Feck slipped off the board, lost a couple of toenails, landed on his back and was awarded zero points. If you can get up and hold your head high after that, then you are a true Olympian, my friend.

If you can't beat 'em …

Despite losing a road race he was expected to win, Mark Cavendish didn't crash out completely; instead, the Manx Missile began commenting on the cycling in the Velodrome – and his straight talking brought him even more admirers. Now, inspired by the exploits of Hoy, Kenny and co, he's talking about taking to the track again in Rio. Chapeau, Cav, chapeau!

It's Brum wot won it

"We want to thank the people of Birmingham," screamed the Jamaican sprint trio of Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir after their clean sweep in the 200m final. Though presumably they didn't so much mean Jasper Carrott, Cat Deeley et al, as those who made them feel at home at their pre-Games training camp.

Lands of hope and glory

He has worked with everyone from David Bowie to Sylvie Guillem. He's a professor at the Royal College of Music. But surely greatest respect must go to Philip Sheppard for arranging, recording and generally rebooting all 204 national anthems, as well as the Olympic anthem itself.

Just do it

Ivan Ukhov is the Russian high jumper who lost his singlet but went on to win gold all the same. The tousle-haired athlete managed to mislay his top moments before he was due to leap, so donned any old T-shirt, slapped a spare number on it, and coolly went off to clear 2.33m at his first attempt. What a dude!

Made in Stratford

In their purple and red uniforms, they were everywhere. The Games Makers manned the barriers, shepherded the confused, consoled the lost and even did the timekeeping in the fencing. They gave their time and enthusiasm, and made the world feel welcome.

No place like 'drome

With a 100 per cent naturally ventilated system that eliminated the need for air-con, the Velodrome was one of the Games's most sustainable venues. It was also one of the hottest. QED. But that also meant the cyclists scorched up the track, and it's already become a London landmark.

Olympic bounce

TV pundits can be a stuffy lot. So it was particularly gratifying to see the behind-the-scenes footage of Michael Johnson, Colin Jackson and Denise Lewis leaping around like excited children and mistaking their chairs for trampolines as Mo Farah triumphed in the 10,000m on Super Saturday.

On Her Majesty's secret service

"Queen Vic" Pendleton and the rest of her gold-winning cycling cohorts blitzed these Games, thanks in no small part to Team GB's "Secret Squirrel Club". That's the nickname of the R&D team, led by Chris Boardman, who produced the bikes. And what's their secret? That would be telling.

Parachuting royals

"God Save the Queen" took on extra relevance at the opening ceremony, with a royal helicopter and parachute jump that began with the immortal words "Good evening, Mr Bond". The world realised that Britain has a sense of humour – from the top down.

Park life

Greenwich residents were less than thrilled that an equestrian centre was about to land in their beautiful park, but now they're as proud as punch for the world to see the birthplace of time, with its noble architecture, river views and Royal Observatory. London's Olympic spirit personified, then.

Party animal

Trust a German to show us how to celebrate. After winning gold in the discus, 6ft 7in, 20-stone man mountain Robert Harting ripped off his shirt, grabbed his country's flag and set off on a lap of honour, memorably clearing the women's hurdles along the way. He then partied all night on a German cruise ship and lost his accreditation, forcing him to sleep at a train station. What a trouper!

People power

None of this could have happened without you – the spectators who cheered and whooped our heroes on. After worries about empty seats, the main stadium has been filled every day. A spokesman for the International Association of Athletics Federations, the world's governing body for track and field, said: "It's done a lot for Britain's reputation in sport. It's just been phenomenal." Whoop whoop to that.

Red button

In the early days of TV remotes, you could annoy your family by suddenly switching from Midsomer Murders to an archaeology documentary. Now, thanks to the Olympics, you don't even have to change channels to rile the relatives. Just hit the red button during the omnium and hear them howl as up comes synchronised diving.

Silver ... but still sad

The Olympic motto is "it's not the winning but the taking part". This is all very well for officials to say (it was coined by the modern Games's founder Pierre de Coubertin), but it's a philosophical perspective less easy to adopt when you've just spent four years flogging yourself half to death in training. Crying is so this year.

Proud parents

His emotional interview with Clare Balding when his son Chad le Clos beat Michael Phelps to swimming gold made South Africans proud and grown men cry, so for a while his Olympian child was known merely as "Bert le Clos's son". "Look at this! What a beautiful boy!" he blubbed. Sometimes, parents, all that sacrifice is worthwhile.

Queen Elizabeth III

Despite her 23-year-old team-mate's ungallant claim that she's "getting on a bit", Beth Tweddle, 27, added an Olympic bronze to her collection of medals with a breathtaking routine on the uneven bars. This despite competing against girls who grew up watching her. Well done, old girl!

Team Burger King

Shot putters. Great beefy, hairy figures who, if you passed them in the street, you might mistake for one of Burger King's better customers. (The blokes are pretty intimidating, too.) One of the Games's pleasures has been listening to their guttural roars as they heave the leaden ball fearsome distances.

This will run and run …

Though Mr Bean did his best to diminish its power in the opening ceremony, Vangelis's music for Chariots of Fire still exerted its magic on the rest of London 2012. Don't think it's the best piece of running music ever written? Then try jogging in your mind and what do you hear? De de de duh duh daah …

Three's company

Were they Britain's favourite brand ambassadors, or the Games's most shameless liggers? It depends on your point of view. What's not in doubt is that the royal triumvirate of Wills'n'Kate'n'Harry has been inseparable at London 2012, prompting one newspaper (oh, all right, the Daily Mail) to dub the younger prince HRH Gooseberry and mutter about a regal ménage à trois. What was it someone once said about there being three people in this marriage?

Thorpe's park

He failed to qualify for London 2012 at the Aussie trials stage, but that didn't lessen the impact of the Thorpedo. For, while Mark Foster did the Brits proud by the pool with his shirt-button-popping physique, five-gold-medal-winning Ian Thorpe was the winner of the commentary contest. Smooth skin, smooth hair, smooth delivery and near-constant presence. Did the Beeb keep him in a cage behind the sofa?

Uplifting stuff

No one expected much from North Korea's Om Yun Chol. Placed in the category reserved for no-hopers, the 56kg weightlifter became only the fifth man in history to lift three times his bodyweight. Stepping on to the podium, however, gave the impression that the 4ft 11in pocket rocket was (almost) as tall as those he had beaten.

Vindicated

As we have noted, Britain's showjumping team overcame an array of injuries to win a jump-off against the Netherlands to take its first gold medal in 60 years. The humans in the saddles got much of the glory, but we should remember one other thing: it was Peter Charles's horse, Vindicat, that jumped that crucial final clear round.

Whoops! Wrong flag

Where would these global spectacles be without some Charlie playing "Waltzing Matilda" when a Kiwi wins, or announcing a Croat as being from Serbia? Thus the Games got off to a chuckling start at the football when South Korea's flag was displayed when it was Mr Kim's North Korea playing.

Wait a Mo!

What we saw: Mo Farah kissing his lovely wife after winning the 10,000m. What we didn't see: Tania Farah, heavily pregnant with twins and there in defiance of doctor's orders, using her own gold-medal initiative to outfox a security guard who didn't want to let her on the track.

Sudan's survivors

Marathon runner Guor Marial was proud to compete under the International Olympic Committee banner. "I'm representing the whole world, basically," he said. Marial fled civil war in Sudan over a decade ago, seeking asylum in the US. GB's basketball team captain Luol Deng similarly escaped the second South Sudanese war.

Volleyball dancers

Beach volleyball is intended to be easy on the eye to begin with, but the dancers who entertained by throwing shapes in the sand before and during matches added a certain extra sparkle to the spectacle. Dancing troupes also jazzed up the breaks between quarters in the basketball stadium, complementing the Mexican waves initiated by inspired commentators.

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