Bright lights, big names, and the allure of record-breaking performances across 36 different sports. It’s no coincidence that close to a billion people tuned in to the Opening Ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. This year it seems there’s even more to love, with more than 10,000 athletes, 205 nations, and a host country that knows a thing or two about putting on a show.

So whether we’ve got full-on Olympic fever (check) or are only now just catching up, here are 12 big-time reasons to root for our 2012 Olympians.

1. They make history.

Photo by An Honorable German

Michael Phelps is officially the most-decorated Olympic athlete of all time, but he didn’t get there without his teammates — and a pretty serious “pep talk.” See what he said to them before winning his record-setting 19th Olympic Medal in the 4x200m freestyle relay.

2. They’re fast as hell.

Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

What’s better than three Olympic golds? Start with four. At the 2012 Summer Games Usain Bolt added yet another 100 meter sprinting title to his trophy case. Next up? The 200 meter race, starting on August 7th (Round 1). Get inspired by Bolt and 24 other Olympic athletes in this larger-than-life roundup of The 25 Most Inspiring Olympic Moments of All Time.

2. They run on water.

Photo: Sum of Marc /

And you thought plain running was hard. There’s little not to love about the steeplechase, a 3000-meter race that has athletes clear a water pit at every lap. Check out 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Olympic Steeplechase here to learnsome wet n’ wild trivia — bloopers included.

3. They fly.

Photo by Craig Maccubbin

Want to know what it feels like to fly? Here’s your ticket: Olympic trampoline, a gymnastics event that has athletes soaring, flipping, and twisting 30 feet in the air. Learn the history, the lingo, and how a kangaroo helped kick the trampoline craze into high gear right here.

4. They multitask.

Photo: dairytwirl

Think competing in just one Olympic event is tough? Try 10. Here’s the ultimate cheat sheet to the Olympic decathlon — including who to watch, what they’re up against, and how many pairs of shoes they really need to own.

5. They have something to say.

Don’t have a ticket to the 2012 Olympic Games? Never fear: The USA’s best and brightest are now Twitter all-stars, too. Check out Greatist’s 30 Must-Follow Olympic Athletes on Twitter so you don’t miss a thing.

6. They’re along for the ride.

Photo by Rich Adams

Don’t just take our word for it: In Sports Illustrated’s recent Olympic projections, Catharine Pendrel is picked as the gold medal favorite for the women’s mountain bike event. Read on to get her workout and nutrition tips — plus a great hotel workout to try when you’re on the road.

7. They’re crazy strong.

Photo: Crossfit Soco

She’s one of the strongest women in the world with a pedigree to back it up. See how American weightlifting phenom Holley Mangold prepared for the 2012 Games.

8. They just wanna have fun.

Photo by kumasawa

With unstoppable duos like Misty Mae Treanor and Kerri Walsh on the sand, the sport of beach volleyball pretty much sells itself. Read on to start digging and diving into the sport’s Olympic history (and find out which U.S. president cheered on The Beatles during a game on Sorrento Beach!).

9. They’re just like us.

Photo by James Cole

Sure, at age 22, most recent college grads aren’t heading to the Olympic Games. But steeplechaser Donn Cabral is more relatable than most. A couple beers every now and then are OK in his book, and dieting? No thanks. See Greatist’s exclusive interview here.

10. They love their moms.

Behind every great Olympian is a great Olympic mother, or at least that’s how we think the saying goes. This heartwarming video from Procter & Gamble pays tribute to the soccer moms and beyond.

11. They’ve got guts.

As American wrester and Olympic gold medalist Dan Gable put it best:“Gold medals aren’t really made of gold. They’re made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.”

12. They defy the odds.

Photo: Mark Blinch/Reuters

Last year Oscar Pistorius and his incredible performance at the IAAF World Championships landed our No. 2 spot for the most inspiring moments of 2011. This year, the South African runner has already made history as the Olympics’ first double-amputee competitor, competing in the 400 meter semifinal race. Still to come: the 4×400 meter relay, followed by the chance to defend his titles at the Paralympic Games.

Which athlete, sport, or event has you hooked during these Olympic Games? Tell us in the comments below!