The Olympics are all about the international community coming together around the spirit of sportsmanship and fair play… and about kicking ass. While the athletes are done socking each other in the pool (go Phelps!) and on the track (Bolt! Bolt! Bolt!), the pitch, the strip, the court, and just about everywhere else, Greatist is pitting the 2012 London Olympics against its predecessors.

On top of the stunning victories and feats of strength, this year’s games also had some truly touching moments of perseverance and human will. It was also home to some amazing firsts. Take a read through these 14 top moments from the 2012 London Olympics and let us know your own favorite moments in the comments below.

Top Olympic Moments

1. Phelps became the most decorated Olympian. Ever.

It only took American swimmer Michael Phelps three Olympics to become the most decorated Olympic athlete ever. Phelps, who earned six medals in London (four gold, two silver), now has a total of 22 medals, beating out Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina’s previous record of 18 medals.

2. Saudi Arabian women competed for the first time.

Photo: gorgeoux

Some of the greatest moments in London occurred well before the opening ceremony. This Olympics was the first that included female athletes from Saudi Arabia. The country had fielded all-male teams in the past but allowed female athletes to compete after receiving pressure from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Sarah Attar ran the 800m and, although she didn’t move past the preliminaries, her participation was just as momentous. Two other countries, Qatar and Brunei, also permitted female athletes to compete for the first time.

3. NBC livestreamed the entire Olympic experience.

NBC’s coverage of the Olympic games irked some (i.e. most) viewers, but 2012 brought an unprecedented amount of coverage to the games. Viewers with the right cable providers could access livestreaming coverage of any sport and any country as it happened. Sure the highlights heavily favored American stories and NBC had a vice-like control over their videos, but it was still fun to watch women’s tennis matches at four in the morning, even if it wasn’t one of the Williams sisters.

4. Niger embodied the Olympic spirit.

Niger doesn’t have a long history in the Canoe and Kayak events, but this year the country certainly made their mark. The International Olympic Committee, in an effort to include niche sports to more countries, provided wild cards to countries such as Niger to help spur their Olympic dreams. When Niger rower Hamadou Djibo Issaka hit the water, he had been training for all of four months. Although he came in last in all three of his races, he received ovations from a rapt audience cheering on his efforts. Issaka was joined by a Nigerian kayaker Johny Akinyemi, who competed in the Canoe Slalom (K1) and became the first Nigerian athlete to do so.

5. We loved Olympic levels of bravado.

Olympic athletes have a certain amount of, ahem, “confidence” — and fencers are no exception. We got a kick out of the men and women screaming, shouting, and crying their way to victory, but the opening salute of Venezuelan fencer Ruben Limardo Gascon was something else. Fencers normally start a bout by raising their swords straight in the air as a sign of respect. Instead, he whipped his sword through the air, in a part Zoro, part Sammy Sosa-like fashion. A little dashing never hurt, since Gascon went on to win gold in Men’s Epee, Venezuela’s first gold medal in any sport since 1968.

6. The Games went social.

The 2012 London Summer Olympics were the first games to take over the social web. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter existed in Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010, but this year it seemed everyone was online. Fans cheering on their heroes to individual athletes raving over their wins, the social sphere spread news faster than any media outlet could and brought fans ever closer to the action.

7. Oscar Pistorius became the first amputee to compete in the Olympics.

Photo: Karva Javi

Competing amongst the finest runners in the world is hard enough, but try doing it with two amputated legs. That’s exactly what South African runner Oscar Pistorius did in London. He not only became the first amputee to participate in an able-bodied Olympic race but also advanced to the semi-finals of the 400m race.

8. McKayla Maroney hit a basically perfect vault.

Photo: gravel72

This summer Olympics was a good one for American female gymnasts. The team won a combined total of eight medals including gold in the Team All-Around. Part of the win, however, included 16-year-old McKayla Maroney’s near-perfect vault which quite literally dropped a judge’s jaw and helped her team open a lead on the second-place Russian team.

9. Andy Murray finally won one for Britain.

Photo by simonw92

British tennis player Andy Murray has had a rough go of things. He’s been Britain’s best (and only) hope for tennis glory since the last British man, Fred Perry, won Wimbledon in 1936. It’s been a heck of a dry spell, but Murray finally shook the ghost and won gold in Men’s Singles at the London games, decisively beating Roger Federer in straight sets.

10. We watched unexpectedly awesome sports again.

Sure, this one may be a constant for the Olympics, but we love getting a chance to cheer on national heroes in totally unheard-of sports. Equestrian, air rifle, fencing, water polo, and discus may not be fighting with the NBA for TV ratings but every Olympics they get a small spotlight and a much-deserved moment to shine.

11. Female boxing debuted at the games.

Photo: IRGlover

The 2012 London Games have been dubbed the “Year of the Women” thanks to the inclusion of female athletes from countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar and the rising prominence of stars like Sanya Richards-Ross and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. This Olympics also marked the introduction of female boxing to the Games. It showed that women can hang with — and be just as physical as — male Olympians.

12. U.S. women brought home the gold.

Photo: Tab59

America has always prided itself on the strength of its Olympic performances, but this year most of the medals were brought home not by men, but by women. The U.S. sent more female than male athletes to London and the women trumped the men in terms of medals: By the end of the games, U.S. women held 29 of the United States’ 46 gold medals, and 58 of America’s 104 total medals.

13. The New York Times created super cool videos.

One of the best parts of the London Olympics happened miles and miles away from the track, Velodrome, or pool. The New York Times, as part of its Olympic coverage, got its learn on and put together a series of fascinating videos explaining the history of some of the Olympics’ most popular events and comparing current champions with heroes from the past. The videos were part history lesson, part infographic, and entirely kick-ass.

14. Olympians finish, despite the odds.

Winning at the Olympics is a dream for every athlete, but sometimes those dreams come crashing down due to injury. However, those seconds of intense pain and disappointment sometimes turn into unforgettable moments of perseverance. Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang had battled an Achilles tendon injury for many years. He aggravated it in the 100m hurdle, but instead of quitting he struggled to his feet and hopped the remaining length of the track, kissing the final hurdle before being embraced by his fellow competitors. Turkish runner Merve Aydin suffered a similar injury and started hobbling halfway through her 800m qualifier. Rather than quit, she finished the race through tears and to roaring applause.

What made these Olympics the best ones yet? Did they fall short? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.