LONDON - For the likes of Michael Phelps and Ben Ainslie, the four-year journey to the Rio Olympics is not one they will be making.
1 Sir Chris Hoy
The Scottish cyclist bows out after overtaking Sir Steve Redgrave as Britain’s most successful Olympian, having won his sixth gold in the keirin.
In the 12 years since he made his debut in Sydney, where he won silver in the team sprint, Hoy has become the face of British cycling, only latterly eclipsed by Bradley Wiggins. He took gold in Athens, another three in Beijing, and claimed his first London gold in the team sprint.
2 Victoria Pendleton
London 2012 was a mixed bag for the 31-year-old: disqualified along with Jess Varnish in the team sprint, a stunning gold in the keirin, and denied by her old adversary Anna Meares in her final race in the individual sprint.
But her career has been a remarkable one: two Olympic golds, nine world titles and a Commonwealth gold. “I won’t don a skin suit ever again,” she said after the race.
“I’m looking forward to all the stuff I’ve denied myself for the last 10 years. I’m looking forward to having a life.”
3 Kenenisa Bekele
Despite being beaten by Mo Farah in the 10,000m, the 30-year-old Ethiopian’s place as one of the greatest distance runners of all time is assured. His career has seen him win three Olympic golds, one silver and five world championship titles.
Now with his best days on the track behind him, Bekele plans to focus on marathon running – and see if he can’t smash a few records there, too.
4 Ben Ainslie
Sixteen years after he won silver at Atlanta, the Cornishman has become the most decorated Olympic sailor of all time. As well as his fourth Olympic gold in London, Ainslie is a 10-time world champion and nine-time European champion.
But the 35-year-old now feels the time may have come to retire. Asked about his plans for the next Games, Ainslie told the BBC: “Rio … is a long way off. With so many emotions [now], it’s difficult to be pinned down.”
5 Kath Grainger
After three consecutive Olympic silvers, the 36-year-old Scot – the most decorated female athlete in British rowing history – finally got her gold with Anna Watkins in the women’s double sculls at Eton Dorney. It is a fitting note on which to bow out.
“This is the one we want more than anything,” she said before their victory. “Of all my Olympic experiences before, this is the important one.”
6 Valentina Vezzali
London saw the 38-year-old Italian fencer – nicknamed the Cobra – take her sixth Olympic gold when the dream team of Vezzali, Elisa Di Francisca and Arianna Errigo won the team title.
Had Vezzali won individual gold rather than bronze, though, she would have become the first woman in any sport to be a solo champion in four successive Games.
She has not ruled out another shot in Rio, saying: “When there is a problem I want to resolve it.” But time is not on her side.
7 Michael Phelps
The famously laidback American swimmer leaves London as the greatest Olympian of all time, having bagged an astonishing 22 medals, 18 of them gold. The last came in the men’s 4x100m individual medley, where his strong butterfly leg ensured USA’s continuing domination of the pool.
“I’ve had the opportunity to do something nobody else has ever done before so I’m very happy with that,” he said after his swansong race.
8 Wu Minxia
The 26-year-old Chinese diver cemented her position as one of the finest her sport has ever seen with a comfortable victory in the three-metre springboard, providing her with her fourth gold and a record-equalling sixth Olympic medal in the diving pool.
“I think this is the perfect ending for me,” she said. “I have attended three Olympics and in the first I didn’t do well. From 2004 until 2008 was the most difficult time for me. After this time my body’s condition and my psychology has got better.”
9 Misty May-Treanor
The US beach volleyball player bid the Olympics farewell after she and her partner Kerri Walsh Jennings won their third Olympic gold, beating their compatriots April Ross and Jennifer Kessy in straight sets, 21-16, 21-16, at Horseguards parade.
The 35-year-old Californian, whose father Bob played on the 1968 US Olympic volleyball team, says she now wants to move on, coach indoor volleyball, and have children.
10 Beth Tweddle
The 27-year-old gymnast bounced back from knee surgery three months ago to fulfil her dream of winning an Olympic medal.
The bronze she took in the uneven bars final went some way to making up for the heartbreak of Beijing, where she finished fourth by just 0.025 of a mark in the same event.
The bronze, which caps her three world championship victories, makes her the most successful gymnast Britain has produced.
Ten great Olympians who bid farewell to the Games