The Olympics are a time to cheer for your favorite athletes, to marvel at magnificent feats of athleticism, and to sob over the triumph of the human spirit.
Now that the London Games have come to a close, it's time to look back at the five most inspiring stories. For some reason, while there were plenty of amazing achievements across the various events, almost all of our top picks come from track and field.
1. Oscar Pistorius. It was hard to miss hearing about Oscar Pistorius over the last two weeks, and for good reason: This South African runner is a double amputee, and he made history as the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympics. Although he didn't take home any hardware, Oscar did make it to the semifinals of the men's 400 meters, and the finals of the men's 4x400 relay, which is pretty damned impressive. He will also participate in the London 2012 Paralympics, which begin on August 29, 2012.
2. Bryshon Nellum. Back in 2008, Bryshon was just your average Olympics track and field hopeful attending USC — and then he was shot in the legs while attending a Halloween party near campus. The shooting was a terrible coincidence: Bryshon had been mistaken for someone else by two gang members. He was hospitalized for four months, and had to undergo three major surgeries, the most recent in 2011. Amazingly, he trained through the pain and managed to gain a spot on the Olympic team; he took home silver as part of the men's 4x400 relay, and he was selected by his fellow athletes to be the US flag bearer in the closing ceremonies. We can see why.
3. Manteo Mitchell: US runner Manteo Mitchell broke his leg while running in the 4x400 relay preliminaries. Rather than let his teammates down, he kept going. For 200 meters. As mentioned above, the team went on to win silver, and they couldn't have done it without Manteo. So next time you complain you're starting to cramp up at the gym, remember: This guy kept going with a broken leg.
4. Sarah Attar and Wojdan Shaherkhani: Sarah Attar (track) and Wojdan Shaherkhani (Judo) are the first female athletes Saudi Arabia has ever allowed to participate in the Olympics. Although neither performed particularly well, their courage in the face of controversy and harsh criticism from their home country is beyond inspiring.
5. Guor Marial: Guor Marial was in one of the most unique situations at the Olympics: He competed as an "Independent Olympic Athlete." Why? Because he refused to run under Sudan's flag after fleeing from a refugee camp as a child during the Sudanese Civil War (he is still awaiting citizenship in the US). He explained, "If I ran for Sudan, I would be betraying my people. I would be dishonoring the two million people who died for our freedom." Two million people, including eight of his siblings. Guor says that, spiritually, he felt like he was representing South Sudan.
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