2008 belonged to Michael Phelps. 2012 belonged to Usain Bolt.
In the Beijing Olympics, it was hard to argue against Phelps or Bolt. Both were in their own class. It's hard to compare a sport such as swimming to an event such as track. While I am neither a track nor a swimming expert, I would give the edge in Beijing to Phelps for winning the numbers game.
That's not to say I don't see the counterargument: though both sports have multiple events, it's easier (relatively) for a swimmer to amass lots of medals than it is for a track star. Runners have very few shots of glory, while swimmers, comparatively, have more. But Phelps' eight gold medals meant that he was on TV a lot more. His victories took longer and there were more of them. Quite simply, you spent more time watching Phelps than you did watching Bolt. So in the sense of infiltrating the collective mind of the fan, Phelps had to be the winner.
While Phelps was still fantastic in London, the tables had turned. While he still boasted an incredibly impressive Olympic resume (besting rival Ryan Lochte), he wasn't the picture of perfection in the way that Bolt was. What I love about Bolt is that as someone who is not a track expert, I can assume he's all I need to know about track, then track analysts will try to convince me otherwise, and then Bolt will go out and prove me right. He may have a big ego, but why shouldn't he? He's the fastest man of all time! Every day we read about bigheaded people who are far less impressive. I actually find Bolt extremely likeable. He's fun, he involves the crowd, he seems to be invested in the success of training partner Yohan Blake, and he's committed to his country and his community.
Women's Track Made One of My Friends Cry.
For sheer raw emotion, women's track is pretty hard to beat. Watching Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce win her second straight gold in the 100m, then promptly lie on the ground crying was enough to cause my friend to well up. I enjoyed watching women's track because, from what I could tell, all of these women were incredibly hard working, well spoken, thoughtful individuals. What's not to admire about someone like Allyson Felix, who took gold in the 200 after taking silver in both Athens and Beijing? From what I could see, the female stars were much less accustomed toward playing to the crowd (though their articulate, thoughtful interviews suggested otherwise), so their reactions showed much more raw emotion and gratitude and much less camera-mugging.
Jamaican Sprinters (and the World): Talent is For All of Us to Admire
I bleed Red, White, and Blue, but I can't get myself to root against Jamaican sprinters. I have so much admiration for them. It is nothing short of amazing for a country that small to be so consistently dominant in a sport as worldwide as running. Only in national team sports are we told to root for our countrymen above all else. While I overwhelmingly root for my country, I will occasionally break from that, whether it's to root for alumni of my school (especially ones I have met), to witness inspiring personal stories, or simply to see great athletics. Bolt is one athlete who has transcended national boundaries: In an interview after his 200 victory, he specifically thanked his many fans in the US.
Why do we Americans root for Bolt? Partly because he seems like a great guy. Mostly because we want to witness the unbelievable.
British Olympic Gold Medalist Version of Neil Patrick Harris: Greg Rutherford
Isn't that the dream?
(Barney Stinson's take on it.)