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Britain's Bradley Wiggins competes on his way to win the Gold medal in the men's individual time trial cycling event at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, in London. (Sergey Ponomarev/AP)
Britain's Bradley Wiggins competes on his way to win the Gold medal in the men's individual time trial cycling event at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, in London. (Sergey Ponomarev/AP)

Olympic postcard

Waiting for 2012’s ‘defining’ moment Add to ...

One question stood out at an otherwise deadly dull Olympics press conference Saturday morning: Does anyone think the London Games have found their "defining" moment yet?

Good question, one that drew generally blank reactions from the four officials on the podium. Finally, IOC communications director Mark Adams ventured forth: "Many Brits probably would already say, from a British perspective, Bradley winning gold was probably a signature moment for us."

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He was referring to Bradley Wiggins, the last month’s Tour de France winner and this Game’s gold medalist in the time trial race. His London win brought his Olympic gold medal haul to four.

Fine answer, if you’re a Brit, but most Olympic viewers are neither Brits nor care a toss about cycling. The Olympic officials struggle to answer the "defining" moment question speaks for itself: By day eight of the London Olympics, there has not been one.

How do you define "defining"? My Brit friend David Owen, a freelance writer covering the Games and a former sports editor of the Financial Times, had about the best answer I could find. "It’s something that makes people in 150-plus countries who are not interested in sport sit up and say ‘Wow!’"

You could argue forever about these "Wow" moments, but they would certainly include Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10 gymnastics score, and three golds, in the 1976 Montreal Olympics; Mark Spitz’s seven golds in the 1972 Munich Games; Michael Phelps’s seven swimming golds in the 2008 Beijing Games; and Usain Bolt’s record 100-metre dash, and three golds, in Beijing.

Between Phelps and Bolt, there is little doubt that Beijing stood out for having two defining moments.

Both Phelps and Bolt are in London, and Phelps has extended his medal run, making him the most successful Olympian of all time (he swims the last race of his Olympic career Saturday night, where, in the 4 X100-metre relay, he is expected to nail his 18th gold). Bolt could set more records in London. But as supremely talented and crowd-pleasing as they are, their "wow" moments came four years ago.

Another full week of competition remains before the London Games end, so there is still plenty of time for an athlete to achieve true defining wowness. On the other hand, it could be that no wowness comes. The truth about the Olympics is that the event is finding it harder and harder to produce surprises, in spite of the double surprise in Beijing. That’s because most of the big sports, from running to rowing, have their own world championships ever year. So we know who the hotshots and probable medal winners are well before the Olympics themselves. Most of today’s Olympic medal winners need no introduction.

Barring a big surprise before Sunday’s wind-down in London, it looks like fans will have to choose their own defining moments. For the Brits, it was Wiggins. For the United States, it was no doubt Phelps’s unstoppable run. Canada and most other countries are still searching for their own defining moment. And so is London 2012

Follow on Twitter: @ereguly