Usain Bolt (second left) and his record-setting relay teammates (Associated Press)
Olympic athletes are on the front burner for 16 days every four years. Consider it their due, acknowledgement of the all-consuming commitment they make for a chance to say they're the best in the world.
Pursuing that excellence, though, means people will always wonder what becomes of them after. The what's next for [insert athlete's full name here] questions begin as soon as the cheers fade and the last notes of the victors' national anthems fade. (By the way, who started this sports interviewer custom of addressing athletes by their full names? They know their own names and so does the audience, thanks to on-screen graphics.)
[Slideshow: Iconic Summer Olympics Closing Ceremonies]
Some of London 2012's superstars will try to see if they can ever hit such a peak again at the Olympics. Others might know their window will shut, but vow to carry on even in the face of steep odds. Here's a look at 10 stars, not necessarily the best 10, who won the world over across the past 16 days.
Usain Bolt, athletics, Jamaica
Olympian feat — Became the first man to the 100 and 200-metre dashes in successive Games and brought home Jamaica's 4 x 100 relay gold in a world-record 36.84 seconds.
Now what? As fast as Bolt runs, the sands run through the hourglass even faster for a world-class sprinter. Bolt has even acknowledged that he might be fighting a losing battle if he tries to chase his own legend. After winning the 200 in Olympic-record time on Thursday, he said, "I think I've had my time. In life, anything is possible but that's going to be a hard reach."
[Slideshow: Usain Bolt wins the 100m]
Bolt will turn 30 on the final day of the 2016 Olympics. In his third Olympics in 1992, the great Carl Lewis, then 31, did not even make the U.S. team as a individual sprinter, instead winning the long jump and anchoring the relay. Jamaica's passion for running and the generation inspired by Bolt would suggest that he might have his hands full merely qualifying to represent the Caribbean nation in the 100 and 200 by then.
He's pulled off the 100-200 double twice, become his country's biggest icon since Bob Marley and told off Carl Lewis. (On behalf of Canadians who remember Ben Johnson and 1988, thanks for that).
Gabby Douglas, gymnastics, United States
Olympian feat — The 16-year-old led the U.S. to the women's team gold and won the all-around competition.
Now what? Douglas is noncommittal about trying to return for Rio, even though gymnasts are now starting to compete on the world stage well into their 20s. . The question about carrying on could be more about handling the attention of a celebrity athlete at such a young age and somehow staying focused on gymnastics. Her almost-too-good story of going from being a girl from a family which has experienced financial struggle to mulling endorsement deals is uniquely American. Given what Douglas embodies as the first African-American gymnastics gold medallist, one can only wish her well with her brave new world.
Christine Sinclair, soccer, Canada
Olympian feat — Scored a tournament-record six goals, including three in a controversy-marred classic vs. Team USA and leading Canada to the bronze for the country's first traditional team sport medal in 76 years.
Now what? Sinclair's legend is secure, as she's become arguably the third-most famous Canadian athlete worldwide after Steve Nash and Georges St-Pierre. (Who would be more likely to recognized in either London, England or London, Ont., Sinclair or Cincinnati Reds slugger Joey Votto, who was only National League MVP last season?) She became the embodiment of the idea that all Canadian Olympians are part of one giant team, which is next to godliness in a country that was long wary of individual flair. The main post-Games story with Sinclair and Co. is how the Canadian Soccer Association will capitalize on the moment and whether a new women's pro league will form in North America. Sinclair's former team, the Western New York Flash, are said to be interested in forming a new northeastern U.S.-based league.
[Slideshow: Canada captures soccer bronze]
In the short run, FIFA player of the year honours should be in order for Sinclair, who scored 23 goals in 22 international games this season. If it is not, expect questions about payback for her comments about the officials following the U.S. game.
Rosie MacLennan, trampoline, Canada
Olympian feat — Captured this country's first gold medal in trampoline, which is kind of a big deal; it was also its only gold medal in London, which is not such a big deal. Really, it is not.
Now what? The King City, Ont., native gave Canada its highlight of the Games. Without her performance, O Canada would never have been heard at the Olympics. Yet Sinclair and the soccer uproar struck a much stronger chord than MacLennan's victory. It's obvious why; anyone can figure out what's happening when there's a disputed call in a soccer game, but scoring in trampoline is esoteric. MacLennan's didn't have that factor. It was hard to stay mad over her teammate Karen Cockburn losing the bronze despite a fall by China's He Wenna when Canada had the gold.
[Slideshow: Rosie MacLennan takes home Canada's only gold]
As Canada's only gold medallist, is a windfall in store for MacLennan? She hails from Southern Ontario, where Olympic athletes are virtually ignored in favour of Toronto's underwhelming professional teams. It could be quiet for her up until the 2015 Pan-Am Games, amateur sports' answer to the kids' table, are held in Toronto.
MacLennan can look forward to expectations that she will retain her gold in Rio. No Canadian summer sport athlete has ever defended an Olympic title, but the next three finishers after MacLennan in trampoline stated London was their last bounce.
Missy Franklin, swimming, United States
Olympian feat — Tied Michael Phelps for the most gold medals at the Games with four, including individual wins in the women's 100 and 200-metre backstroke; added a bronze for five overall.
Now what? Consider Franklin the swimming world's answer to the young hockey player — her parents are Canadian so the puck analogy is not dumbing it down, it's actually apropos for once — weighing the merits of a college scholarship vs. playing junior and kissing the former goodbye. The 17-year-old Coloradan eschewed endorsements to keep her eligibility, but it's understandable she would be tempted to see what's out there financially and use that to pay for school, much like 1992 gold medallist Summer Sanders opted for endorsements but continued to attend Stanford.
[Slideshow: America's newest sweetheart]
"For right now, I still believe that college is what's going to make me the happiest girl," Franklin said on Saturday. "I know what my parents and my friends and my teammates and my coaches want. But we'll definitely have to sit down and talk about that."
Jessica Ennis, athletics, Great Britain
Olympian feat — Won gold in the women's heptathlon, capping Great Britain's Super Saturday on Aug. 8 (three golds in a span of 45 minutes).
[Slideshow: A closer look at Olympic heptathlon]
Now what? Ennis has been called Great Britain's most bankable athlete and presumably can dine out on that for a lifetime. Ennis, whose rock-hard abs probably make us all feel guilty, has admitted she will need time after London to relax, refresh and reload.
The 26-year-old has set her sights on defending her world title and getting the Commonwealth Games title that has thus far eluded her. (Wait, an Olympic champion won't feel complete without a Commonwealth Games gold medal? The notion seems rather alien to a Canadian.)
Mohamed (Mo) Farah, athletics, Great Britain
Olympian feat — Became just the fifth man to sweep the 5,000 and 10,000 metres.
[Related: Mo Farah pulls a Usain Bolt]
Now what? Flying Farah just won his second gold on Saturday, so it's a little early for him to state his plans for Rio. It can be related that that Farah, 29, and his spouse Tania, expecting twins in a matter of days. "Those two medals are to my two girls that are coming, he said on Saturday, adding, "They're twins so there's one for each. They could arrive any day." Apparently, Farah's future includes plans to build a sports academy in his homeland of Somalia, which he left in 1991 when he was eight.
Ashton Eaton, athletics, United States
Olympian feat — Won the men's decathlon by scoring 8,869 points, which was part of America's first 1-2 finish in the event since 1956.
[Slideshow: Ashton Eaton wins decathlon gold]
Now what? The multi-million-dollar question is whether Eaton's triumph registered in America. The decathlon's drop off the radar while the men's 100 has become the marquee event is universal; it's not because America has a short attention span. The 2008 decathlon champ, Bryan Clay, did not become a poster boy. Eaton, 24, is focusing on breaking the world record he set in the U.S. Olympic trials.
May we say North America dominated decathon, since Cuba's Leonel Suarez took bronze and first-time Olympian Damian Warner had a breakout with his fifth-place finish?
Shiwen Ye, swimming, China
Olympian feat — Gold medals in the women's 200 and 400-metre individual medley, setting Olympic records in each and a world mark in the 400 IM.
[Related: Shiwen Ye faces doping allegations]
Now what? It sounds like the 16-year-old will be back for Rio with a more refined stroke, facing fresh competitors and no doubt fresh innuendos that she must be doping. The questions started after Ye famously record a faster final lap in the 400 IM than the men's winner, American Ryan Lochte. Of course, some would point out teenagers age and swimmers pace themselves differently throughout longer races.
Chris Hoy, cycling, Great Britain
Olympian feat — The Scotsman led Team GB at the velodrome, winning two gold medals in men's keirin and men's team sprint, giving him seven career Olympic golds.
[More: Chris Hoy's massive thighs]
Now what? Something called the Commonwealth Games is in Glasgow, Scotland in 2014. Hoy, who will be 38 at that point, plans to make it his victory lap. He had a dream finish to his Olympic career, plus he can steer clear of the political foofaraw about Scotland forming its own Olympic team in 2016. Hoy has been consistently against it for years.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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