Ye Shiwen

Surprising performance ... Ye Shiwen. Photo: Getty Images

A superstar emerges, then a shadow
It took less than one day for the world to be rocked by what was unfolding in the Olympic pool. Not only did the manner in which Chinese 16-year-old Ye Shiwen destroy her rivals in the women's 400m individual medley leave everyone stunned, but her split times stupefied experts, coaches and fellow swimmers. Ye wasn't rated a medal chance before the Games and indeed, turning into the final freestyle leg looked as if a lesser medal was her best hope. Then she lit the fires. In the next 100m, she overtook Elizabeth Beisel as if the American was swimming through jelly. The split time was faster than the corresponding men's 400m IM winner Ryan Lochte, a fact seized on as proof of supposed foul play. Ye was off the charts with a swim that was too good in the eyes of many. Doping allegations flowed and the stunning victory was shrouded in suspicion. Ye would win the 200m individual medley (IM) as well and has tested negative throughout the Games. Even so, it will take some time to remove the asterisk from her astonishing Olympic debut.

From Phelps to eternity

Michael Phelps

Phelps was already swimming through rarefied water when he arrived in London. He leaves in a universe of his own. That he is the greatest swimmer that has ever lived is a given. The greatest Olympian? With a personal haul of 18 golds and 22 medals in total through four games, it takes a bold argument to peg him back. Phelps was oddly shaky at the start of the meet, failing to place in the 400m IM. Stories about his sudden relapse into humanity followed, with many wondering if or how, at age 27, he could beat back Lochte and friends. Hindsight shows our doubts were the stuff of lunacy. He silvered in the 200m butterfly, before winning the 200m IM and the 100m butterfly, as well as a pair of relay golds. His tally of four golds and two silver from London makes him the most decorated Olympian in history and he spear-headed a US men's squad that flattened their rivals. His departure on the final night, as he loped around the pool allowing himself to be awash in the standing ovations and adulation, was unforgettable. With his relay team, he unfurled a sign that said: 'Thank You London'. Trust me - it was our pleasure.

America's women swimmers

Missy Franklin

Ye Shiwen's win on the first night had everyone wondering if the Chinese women were going to own the pool. Instead, the United States flexed its muscle after Beisel's loss. Their relentless women rattled off gold after gold after gold, with Missy Franklin, Dana Vollmer, Katie Ledecky, Allison Schmitt and Rebecca Soni stamping their authority on the competition and leaving world records in their wake. If China wants to become the pre-eminent power in the Olympic pool, or if Australia wants to bounce back, the mountain to climb is daunting. Swimmers like Franklin, just 17-years-old, will only get better for Rio. They are all bubbly and giggly and love dancing and painting nails and say "golly gee gosh" a lot - and then machine gun you in the water.

Hopes of a nation

Rebecca Adlington

One of the faces of the home Games, Rebecca Adlington, was the sole focus of the British swimming fans who packed the steep cliffs of the Aquatic Centre. She was the defending Olympic champion over 400m and 800m freestyle but found out how difficult it is to defend gold medals. Only two swimmers - Americans Soni and Phelps - would manage to complete that task in London. Frenchwoman Camille Muffat took gold in the 400m, with Adlington the bronze. But the 800m was her pet event and with some of her bigger rivals failing badly in the heats, it looked as if her dream would come true. She didn't count on America's 15-year-old Katie Ledecky. Nobody did. The Maryland high school student went to the front and Adlington simply couldn't make up the ground, collecting her second bronze. The story didn't end as she had envisaged but the reception she was given will ring in her ears for a lifetime.

Upsets aplenty

Nathan Adrian

For all of the big names that fired as predicted, there were more than enough results that had heads being scratched. Adlington was one example, as was the Australian 4 x 100m men's relay (see below at your peril). But teenagers like Ledecky, fellow 15-year-old Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte, and Ye also leapt out of the pool to upstage much more-fancied rivals. American Nathan Adrian had few supporters for gold before the Games but won the 100m freestyle, edging James Magnussen by 0.01 of a second. Another bolter came in the form of South African Chad le Clos, who tipped Phelps out in the 200m butterfly and beat the man he had grown up idolising. The bookmakers have gone home happy.

Missile malfunction

James Magnussen

Headline writers around Australia had a depot full of James 'Missile' Magnussen puns ready to use before the Games began. They'll be kept on hold until Rio. On night two, the Australian men's 4 x 100m relay team had convinced everyone, including themselves, that a gold medal would be waiting for them once they climbed out of the pool. But from the moment Magnussen swam his first leg a second off his best time, the game was up. James Roberts was another who struggled in his London cameo, while Matt Targett and Eamon Sullivan had no chance to erase the deficit. France gold, America silver, Russia bronze, Australia humble pie.

International delights

Ranomi Kromowidjojo

To state the obvious from the medal table, the days of Australia and the USA being the two global swimming powerhouses are well gone. The Americans swept the pool with 30 medals in total, 16 of those being gold, but the rest weren't gobbled up by the Aussies, as has been the case in the past. Australia finished sixth on the swimming tally, behind the USA, China, France, The Netherlands and South Africa. The Dutch crowned a swimming princess of their own in Ranomi Kromowidjojo, who won gold in the 50m and 100m freestyle. Yannick Agnel, the Frenchman, was a hero early. Chad le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh will be the toast of South Africa, although van der Burgh's gold in the 100m breaststroke wasn't without it's share of controversy.

Concern about a kick

Swimming

The London Games has been one where the Olympic spirit has been deliberately contravened in a number of instances. Badminton tarnished by incidents of teams throwing matches to avoid playing strong teams in subsequent rounds, concerns about subjective boxing refereeing and a British cyclist admitted to deliberately falling of his bike after a slow start. So it came as little surprise that accusations of cheating arrived at the pool. Van der Burgh beat Australia's Christian Sprenger in the 100m breaststroke but video footage later showed him using a series of illegal butterfly kicks. He admitted as much, without fear of having his medal overturned because FINA rules don't allow for any video evidence to be used as the grounds of a protest. He said everybody did it, essentially saying he wasn't going to sacrifice a gold medal for the sake of fair play if every other swimmer retained an advantage. It's a problem swimming's governing body now has on its plate.

Saving grace

Swimming

When the Australian women's 4x100m freestyle relay team swam to gold on the first night of the competition, it was thought to be the start of another golden meet for our swimmers. Instead, it would prove to be the team's saving grace. The quartet of Melanie Schlanger, Brittany Elmslie, Alicia Coutts and Cate Campbell were the only swimmers to stand on top of the dais in London and were beaming with pride, having beaten arch-rival America. Australian coach Leigh Nugent spoke of how the squad failed to handle pressure and deliver when it mattered. The women's relay team can leave London knowing they held their nerve - and have the gold to prove it.

Records tumble

Sun Yang

After the supersuit world titles in Rome in 2009, it was thought the impossibly high 43 world records set with some technological help would never be erased. There was talk of scratching them all and reverting to times set by swimmers in traditional suits. This meet has shown they can not only be broken, but in some circumstances, trashed. Nine world records tumbled in the London pool, beginning and ending with two from Chinese swimmers, Ye in the 400m IM for women and Sun Yang, whose 1500m time of 14 min 31.02 secs almost made him the first man under the 14.30 mark. The youth of the record-breakers means they will only get faster and the times shrink even further. As it has transpired, even the polyurethane suits have proven no match for added funding, more advanced training and the most precocious of talents.