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Fourth-Place Medal

Ranking the 10 best venues from the 2012 London Olympics

Fourth-Place Medal

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LONDON — We've listed some of the worst venues of the London Games — "worst" being a relative term, given how great the venues have been — so now it's time to count down the 10 best venues of the Summer Olympics.

Some of these venues have the benefit of history in other sports. Some are simply picturesque. Some were made memorable due to the fans' incredible passion for Team Great Britain stars.

It was a tough list to create, given how many venues were outstanding. But we managed to get the 10 best.

Some of these venues we visited during the Games; other choices are the product of conversations with media and fans.

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10. Eton Dorney Rowing Centre

It wasn't everyone's favorite — especially if you're not a fan of walking 40 minutes to reach different parts of the venue. But the rowing championship course was world class and it may have been the only Olympic venue to feature sheep roaming fields.

Well, outside of the Opening Ceremony.

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9. Velodrome

Given a thumbs-up by Architectural Review, the velodrome had one of the coolest exterior designs — like an alien mothership created by master carpenters. Inside, the track and the conditions for the racers produced record times. As you'll see throughout this list, it's a venue that benefited from the enthusiasm of the local fans — the Great Britain loyalists created deafening conditions.

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8. ExCeL Fencing

The ExCeL center featured multiple mini-arenas for wrestling, boxing and weightlifting. All were intimate; and when Katie Taylor won boxing gold for Ireland, the cheers reached all the way back to Dublin. It was one of the Games' greatest atmospheres.

But fencing just looked really, really cool.

In the light, it was a standard fencing venue with multiple pistes. When the house lights came down, the fencers would be surrounded by either green or red light whenever they struck each other.

Combined with their masks, this was the greatest Daft Punk "TRON Legacy" music video never filmed.

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7. Greenwich Park

The site of the equestrian events — and whatever the hell "dressage" was — Greenwich Park drew some of the largest crowds of the Games to one of its most picturesque venues.

Fans could sit on a blanket, have a picnic and watch horses leap over dangerous jumps during the cross country competition, occasionally tossing their riders. What's not to like?

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6. Copper Box

Otherwise known as "The Box That Rocks."

Handball isn't huge in London, but the locals crammed the 7,000-seat arena to take part in one of the Olympics' loudest venues. Its exterior made it one of the more offbeat venues at the Games.

Britain men's player Mark Hawkins told the AP: "[The Copper Box] is the best place in the world at the moment" in which to play handball. It was hard to disagree.

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5. Lord's

I'm not a cricket fan, so I didn't have any frame of reference for Lord's until I attended media day with two local writers, who treated the experience like Catholics at the Vatican. We're talking stunned disbelief they were allowed in the main building without a suit and tie, literally kissing the grounds.

As the venue for Olympic archery, the temporary stands made it difficult for the competitors to judge the winds. But aesthetically, and historically, it took a peripheral Olympic sport and placed it on hallowed ground.

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4. Olympic Stadium

Did the heart of the Olympic Park have the instantly memorable charm of The Bird's Nest from Beijing? No.

What it did have: an 80,000-seat capacity that was packed to the top of the stands on most days, creating a buzz for every race. The memories created by Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and others were given a roaring soundtrack from the fans at the venue.

And hey: It's got the Olympic flame, one of the must-have photos of the Games.

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3. Wimbledon

It doesn't get much better than watching Olympic gold settled on Centre Court of the world's most famous tennis venue. Andy Murray's moment of celebration in winning the men's tournament wasn't just about beating Roger Federer or capturing gold — it was having it happen at Wimbledon, making him a part of the London Games' local domination.

Slight demerits for having the garish purple signage of the Games cluttering up the pristine grounds ...


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2. Hyde Park

Hey, look kids: Buckingham Palace, the Serpentine, Marble Arch and Hyde Park Corner!

Those were some of the iconic London locales that competitors in the triathlon saw and competed near, as spectators lined the streets 10 deep to cheer them on. Just a remarkable use of the city, and a pretty challenging course for the triathletes.

And finally …

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1. Horse Guards Parade

There wasn't another venue that perfectly captured the spirit of the London Games.

The site of the beach volleyball tournament, there was sand, bikinis, beach balls, cheerleaders, conga lines and Katy Perry music blaring inside the stadium. Framing it over the edge of the stands: Centuries-old buildings, with Big Ben looming over the right side of the stadium and the London Eye in the distance.

The venue had the highest fun-factor of the Games, both in the nature of the sport and ancillary stuff. (Like the PA announcer who would describe "the time-honored tradition of sand raking" during the court maintenance.) But it was its juxtaposition with the scenery that made it a classic.

As well as the unlimited beer sales. That too.

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