Katie Ledecky and Rebecca Adlington

Our top swims of 2012

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After the American swim team won 31 medals (16 gold) at the London Olympics, 2012 could be called the year of the swimmer in the U.S. of A. Among that hardware haul were some extra special swims, courtesy of wide-eyed high school kids, grizzled veterans and everyone in between.

Here’s a list of five memorable swims in 2012, in no particular order.

Ryan Lochte, 400m IM, Olympic Trials
Lochte went on to win this race at the Olympics, but his victory over Michael Phelps at Trials might have been the better performance. The race occurred on the first night of finals at Trials, and it was the first time Lochte and Phelps would race each other at the meet. The CenturyLink Center was alive and had the atmosphere of an old-school heavyweight fight. Flames shot up from the deck as the two rivals – who happen to be good friends – made their way through all four strokes in the four-lap race. It was the most exciting race of the summer – including the Olympics. Lochte touched in 4:07.06, Phelps in 4:07.89. Phelps finished fourth in London.

Missy Franklin, 200m backstroke, Olympics
It wasn’t Franklin’s first medal in London, but it was probably her most memorable (at least individually). Franklin competed in six events at the Games – three individual races and all three relays. The 200m backstroke is her best event, which was obvious in London as she won the race in 2:04.06 seconds, a stunning three quarters of a second faster than the previous world record. The 17-year-old from Colorado became the first American woman to win Olympic gold in the race since 1972.

Nathan Adrian, 100m freestyle, Olympics
All we heard entering the men’s 100m freestyle was the name James Magnussen; he was the Australian sprinter who was supposed to dominate the field and win gold. Magnussen was the fastest swimmer heading into the final but Adrian, who was 23 at the time, spoiled Magnussen’s party in epic fashion. Adrian managed to out-touch the Aussie by .01 of a second – the closest possible margin in swimming. A disappointed Magnussen was left with the silver medal. “So many emotions,” Adrian said. “It was incredible.”

Katie Ledecky, 800m freestyle, Olympics
It’s not very often that 15 year olds make headlines at the Olympics. For a swimmer that age to beat the Olympic champion is even more rare. Ledecky did both, winning the 800m freestyle in London. The Maryland native qualified for the final as the No. 3 seed after clocking a time of 8:23.84. In the final, Ledecky went 8:14.63 and won by four seconds. 2008 Olympic champ Rebecca Adlington, a Brit who had almost the entire arena cheering for her, was almost six seconds slower in third. Ledecky’s performance was the second fastest 800m freestyle swim in history.

Michael Phelps, 4x100m medley relay, Olympics
This list would not be complete with Phelps, who ended his career on the final day of the swimming competition at the Olympics with a gold medal in the medley relay. He swam the third (butterfly) leg behind Matt Grevers and Brendan Hansen, and in front of Nathan Adrian. The squad finished two seconds shy of the world record, but that was not the point. Phelps put the finishing touches on a career that spanned four Olympics and which included 22 Olympic medals, more than anyone else in history. Nineteen of his medals are gold. Those are the types of numbers that will stand for a very long time.

Elana Meyers Taylor crashes, brakewoman ejected (video)

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Two-time Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor‘s start to the World Cup bobsled season was both record-breaking and painful.

Meyers Taylor and brakewoman Kehri Jones had the fastest women’s start time ever recorded on the 2010 Olympic track in Whistler, B.C., on Saturday.

But only one of them made it to the finish.

Meyers Taylor crashed the sled during their first run, with the impact causing Jones to eject out the back and slide along the chute before coming to a stop.

Both athletes were able to walk off the track, according to U.S. Bobsled.

Meyers Taylor missed four races last season while receiving treatment for long-term effects from a January 2015 concussion. She returned to win at the last two stops.

MORE: Why Steven Holcomb mulled retirement

Diver Sammy Lee, first Asian-American male gold medalist, dies at 96

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 18:  1948 and 1952 Olympic platform diving gold medalist Dr. Sammy Lee and Olympic diving hopeful Brittany Viola of the United States attend the Team USA Road to London 100 Days Out Celebration in Times Square on April 18, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for USOC)
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Dr. Sammy Lee, the first Asian-American man to win an Olympic gold medal and first male diver to repeat as Olympic champion, died of pneumonia at age 96 on Friday, according to the University of Southern California.

Lee was born in Fresno, Calif., of Korean parents.

He unretired from a medical career to compete in his first Olympics in London in 1948, after the Games took a 12-year break due to World War II.

Lee earned platform gold and springboard bronze in 1948 and then retired, unretired and defended his platform title in 1952. Lee and another Asian-American, Victoria Manolo-Draves, who had a Filipino father and English mother, both won diving titles in 1948, with Draves’ springboard gold coming first.

Lee also served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during the Korean War.

He succeeded despite facing racial discrimination. From TeamUSA.org:

When Sammy was growing up, non-whites could use the pool where he practiced one day a week, on Wednesdays only. And then, as he has told it, the pool would be emptied after the non-whites used it, and fresh water was brought in the next day.

When the pool was off-limits, Sammy practiced by jumping into a sand pile.

Lee went on to coach divers, including Greg Louganis, after his competitive career, and continued his medical work. He graduated from USC’s medical school in 1947.

He is a member of the U.S. Olympic and International Swimming Halls of Fame.

*Correction: An earlier version of this post erroneously reported Lee was the first Asian-American Olympic champion. He was the second.