When the Summer Olympics began with the staid Queen of England taking part in a James Bond skit filmed for the best opening ceremony ever, you knew the biggest event on the global sports calendar had a chance to be a celebration of both winning and whimsy.
When the penultimate day of the 2012 Olympics saw double individual track champions Mo Farah of Great Britain and Usain Bolt of Jamaica join in striking each other's signature pose — "The Mobot" and the "To Di World" lightning bolt — it was clear the London Games had been as happy and glorious as any in history.
For having dire predictions of transport chaos and security peril go unrealized, for keeping a vow to put athletes back at the center of the Games, organizing committee boss and two-time Olympic champion Sebastian Coe (and his indefatigable team) deserve the sporting world's thanks.
And the athletes who used the London stage to be more than mere players merit recognition in the Tribune's annual international sports awards:
As always, I consider only those athletes for whom an Olympic gold medal is the biggest prize. That means no Serena Williams on this list, even though her 2012 was remarkable and included two Olympic tennis golds.
Although Tour de France winners also aren't in the running, one could not have a list of 2012 achievers in global sports without kudos to U.S. Anti-Doping Agency boss Travis Tygart. His willingness to take on a global (false) god produced the evidence that showed Lance Armstrong to be the greatest fraud in sports history.
And now, the medalists:
Athlete of the year
Gold: Usain Bolt, Jamaica, track. Outran doubt and the competition to become first to win successive golds in the 100 and 200 meters. Also ran on a world record-setting sprint relay for the second straight Games. Bolt's playful showmanship made his races even more memorable.
Silver: Michael Phelps, U.S., swimming. In becoming the most decorated Olympian ever with 22 medals (record 18 gold), Phelps was the most decorated male athlete for the third straight Summer Games and the first man to win the same swimming event (200 individual medley) in three straight.
Bronze: Mo Farah, Great Britain, track. Never has a crowd roared any louder than the Olympic Stadium fans did in reaction to Farah's thrilling stretch runs to win the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, making the Somali refugee a powerful symbol for a contemporary multicultural Britain.
Gold: Gabby Douglas, U.S., gymnastics. At 16, she became the first U.S. gymnast to win Olympic all-around and team gold and the world's first woman gymnast of color to take the all-around. And a high voltage personality made her an instant national celebrity.
Silver: Tirunesh Dibaba, Ethiopia, track and field. After three injury-riddled seasons, the 105-pounder known as "The Baby-Faced Destroyer" ran the fastest time of the year to become the first woman with consecutive Olympic golds in the 10,000 and also won a third straight medal (bronze-gold-bronze at 5,000).
Bronze: Wu Minxia, China, diving: Won golds in springboard and synchro springboard, becoming first woman to win a diving title in three straight Olympics. Announced retirement after London Games with six Olympic (four gold) and 12 world (six gold) medals.
U.S. athlete of year
Gold: Michael Phelps, swimming. (See above)
Silver: Ashton Eaton, track and field. Broke decathlon world record despite miserable weather at the U.S. Olympic trials. Won Olympic decathlon. Set heptathlon world record while winning 2012 World Indoor Championships.
Bronze: Jordan Burroughs, wrestling. Became one of the youngest to hit his sport's trifecta — and in no time flat — by winning 2012 Olympics after world and NCAA titles in 2011. Olympic gold medal match was his 38th straight freestyle win.
Gold: Gabby Douglas, gymnastics. (See above)
Silver: Missy Franklin, swimming. The 17-year-old lived up to her billing by becoming the most gilded female athlete (four golds) in London and tying for most medals by a woman (five). Each of her five medals came in record-breaking performance: two world (one individual, one relay), three U.S. (one individual, two relay.)
Bronze: Allyson Felix, track and field: Three gold medals, including first ever in individual event, giving her gold and two silvers in 200 meters. Part of world record 4 x 100 relay.
Performance of year
Gold: David Rudisha, Kenya, track. Immediately taking the lead, Rudisha won the fastest top-to-bottom 800 meters in history with a time of 1 minute, 40.91 seconds — a rare world record in races of 800 or longer set without help of pace-setting.
Silver: Chad le Clos, South Africa, swimming. By beating Michael Phelps in 200 butterfly, Le Clos had the most surprising triumph of the London Olympics. Phelps had not lost a major international race in the event since 2002.
Bronze: Ben Ainslie, Great Britain, sailing. Coming from behind on the final day of Finn racing, the 35-year-old won a fourth straight gold and fifth medal, leaving him tied for the most titles and medals in Olympic history.
Gold: U.S. 4 x 100 relay, track. When the winning time came up, Allyson Felix couldn't believe the numbers: 40.82 seconds. The U.S. team of Tianna Madison, Felix, Bianca Knight and Carmelita Jeter had crushed 27-year-old world record (41.37) set by East Germany.
Silver: Ye Shiwen, China, swimming. The 16-year-old unwittingly sparked rancorous suspicion after breaking the world record in the 400 individual medley while covering the final 50 faster than men's winner Ryan Lochte. She won the 200 IM three days later.
Bronze: U.S. women's basketball. Won a fifth straight gold medal and 41st straight game, taking the final (86-50 over France) by an unprecedented margin.