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Our top swims of 2012

Dec 30, 2012, 2:54 PM EDT

Katie Ledecky and Rebecca Adlington Getty Images

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.

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