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What a year it’s been.
In 2012, the United States saw Hurricane Sandy ravage the East Coast and a divisive presidential election that kept President Obama in office. London hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics while the rest of Europe has been struggling to preserve the euro. There have been explosive political revolutions around the world, including Russia and the Middle East. Meanwhile, mankind has gotten closer to space than ever before with a mobile science lab on Mars, the rise of commercial space flights, and a record-breaking skydive from space.
In the midst of all this, some incredible people have emerged.
From politics to sports, entertainment, finance, and more, people have done extraordinary things this year. These are the people who impressed us the most.
Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner set an aviation milestone on Oct. 14, when he jumped from more than 128,000 feet above Earth and became the first man to break the speed of sound in a free-fall.
The 43-year-old thrill-seeker topped out at 833.9 mph, or mach 1.24, before landing safely on the ground in New Mexico.
The mission, sponsored by Austrian energy drink maker Red Bull, was also a breakthrough for science. It delivered valuable information about an astronaut's chances for survival at extreme altitudes, which is important for future space travel.
Since declining multiple entreaties to run for the Republican Party nomination in 2012, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has continued his rise to national political prominence.
Thanks to his expert handling of Hurricane Sandy aftermath, Christie's approval ratings have soared to unthinkable levels, defying odds in a deep-blue state to become New Jersey's most popular governor ever.
Christie has already announced his intention to run for re-election in 2013. If his consideration as Mitt Romney's potential running mate and his keynote speech at the Republican National Convention are any indication, he will likely play a major role in the GOP as 2016 rolls around.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a remarkable year.
She traveled to 42 countries in 2012 alone, responding to crises in Syria, Libya, and North Korea, while navigating America's changing role in the Middle East.
As she winds down her final year as Secretary of State, Clinton leaves the administration immensely more popular than she was when she started. Her approval ratings are the highest of her career, hovering around 70 per cent. She even went viral this year, inspiring the popular Texts From Hillary meme.
While Clinton remains coy about her future political plans, polls shows that she would have a good shot at the White House, should she choose to run again in 2016.
After over a decade in and out of the major leagues, pitcher R.A. Dickey had been written off by most.
But in 2012, after a long strenuous journey, Dickey accomplished the unthinkable. At age 37, Dickey finally got so good at the knuckleball that he basically became unhittable. He won 21 games, struck out an NL-best 233 batters and became the first knuckleball pitcher to ever win the Cy Young award.
Today, Dickey is the only major league player who uses the knuckleball as his primary pitch and he can't be ignored in a conversation about the best pitchers in baseball.
At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, 16-year-old Gabby Douglas became the first African-American woman to win Olympic gold medals in both the individual and team all-around gymnastics competitions.
Douglas overcame the racism she says she faced as one of the only black gymnasts at her gym --she said that she was bullied so much that she almost quit the sport when she was 14 years old. It's a good thing the Virginia native stayed with the sport though, since she went on to make history.
At just 16 years old, Douglas already has two Olympic gold medals and she has said that she plans to come back in 2016 to try to win more.
Just over a year ago, the eurozone seemed to be on the verge of collapse. Yields were soaring everywhere, even in 'core' countries like France, not to mention Spain and Italy, where things were plunging rapidly.
Everybody knew that the ultimate backstop had to come from the European Central Bank, the only entity in Europe with an unlimited amount of money. But there was a problem: The ECB's mandate is limited, and there's a strong influence from the Germans, who are very opposed to any whiff of printing money and monetizing government debt.
But via two moves, Draghi helped save the project.
Late in 2011, he announced a program whereby all eurozone banks could borrow money cheaply, using all sorts of collateral, for up to three years. This soothed the banking system.
Then over the summer, he made his bombshell announcement. On July 26, with sovereign borrowing costs spiking again, he said the ECB was 'ready to do whatever it takes' to save things. And then he added for emphasis 'it will be enough.'
Not long after, he announced the ECB's OMT (outright monetary transactions) scheme, whereby the ECB could buy government debt in unlimited amounts, so long as the country in question was reforming. The way it gets around German objections and stays within the ECB's narrow mandate, is by arguing that it's necessary to depress yields, so that the transmission of stable monetary policy can be achieved. German central bankers don't like it, but Angela Merkel is cool with it, and that's what's key.
The scheme still hasn't been used, but just the fact that it's there has resulted in a huge reduction in borrowing costs for countries like Spain and Italy.
The Eurozone project survives, thanks to Draghi's creative thinking.
Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is investing $350 million of his own money to transform Las Vegas.
It's a hugely ambitious plan. He's devoting $200 million to real estate, $50 million to tech startups, $50 million to small businesses, and $50 million to arts and culture, with the goal of accomplishing in seven years what would usually take 20. He also wants to make Vegas the smartest city and co-working capital of the world.
'Originally, we were just saying, any plot of land anywhere. We'll just build our own campus like Google or Apple or Nike,' Hsieh told us. 'Apple and Nike have great campuses for their employees, but they're not integrated and don't contribute to the community around them. They're kind of like these little islands.'
If he's successful, Hsieh's strategy will be a model for other urban renewal projects around the country.
LeBron James, co-captain of the Miami Heat, won his first NBA title in 2012 and solidified his standing as the most dominant basketball player in the world.
He had one of the best statistical seasons in recent NBA history, and led his team to a championship by playing all five positions in the playoffs.
Within a two-month span this year James won an NBA title, an NBA MVP award, and an Olympic gold medal -- something that has only been done before by Michael Jordan.
Joe Lhota, chief of New York City's Metro Transit Authority, restored service to New York City's subways faster than anyone thought would have been possible after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.
Within 72 hours of the storm, all lines operating above 34th Street were fully operational, and within a week trains were running underneath the East River to Brooklyn and Queens.
He kept the city continuously informed -- and Tweeted about it from his Twitter account -- and even criticised Mayor Bloomberg for stepping on his turf.
Many now expect him to run for mayor of New York City.
On August 5, NASA made history by landing a one-ton car-sized mobile science lab on the surface of Mars: the Curiosity rover.
In the short time since landing successfully on Mars, the Curiosity rover -- a $2.5 billion project -- has discovered evidence of once-hip-deep flowing water in Gale Crater, investigated strange white particles in the sand, and analysed soil, rock and air samples with her high-tech science lab.
The rover's main goal is to see if ancient Mars could have held life, though she is also forward-thinking: She is analysing the Red Planet's atmosphere to see if it would be safe to send humans for a little visit.
She's a hard-working scientific marvel who is sending us important information about Mars.
We don't know who is more impressive, though, the rover herself or the team that runs her? One doesn't work without the other that's for sure.
Marissa Mayer took the tech world by storm this year when she become the CEO of Yahoo in July.
In addition to her role as Yahoo CEO, Mayer also serves on the board of Walmart and is an active angel investor.
In October, Mayer and her husband Zachary Bogue had a baby boy. She says she disclosed her pregnancy to Yahoo's headhunter when contacted about the CEO position, and the company expressed no issue with it. She decided not to take a full maternity leave, instead returning to work to make a bigger, better Yahoo.
Mayer proves that it is entirely possible to have a successful career and family at the same time.
Back in March 2011, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer called Jim Messina, then-White House deputy chief of staff, 'the most powerful person you've never heard of.' That's no longer true.
Messina gained national recognition this year as the campaign manager for Barack Obama in the 2012 Presidential Elections.
Despite a grim economy and an unpopular incumbent, Messina arguably ran one of the most effective and innovative campaigns ever. His campaign leveraged technology to empower voters and grassroots supporters in groundbreaking new ways.
Musk's ventures are all about launching humankind into the future with new, more sustainable, environmentally-friendly modes of transportation.
Musk made history when his company Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) became the first private company to dock a spacecraft at the International Space Station in May.
His other company, Tesla Motors, rolled out the Model S car, the world's first premium electric sedan. The Model S was named Car of the Year by three major publications: Automobile Magazine, Yahoo Autos, and Motor Trend magazine.
Rich and brilliant, Musk has been called a real-life Tony Stark.
Over a harsh Moscow winter of protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government, three young women -- part of a feminist punk rock performance group called Pussy Riot-- emerged as the unlikely global stars of the Russian opposition.
On February 21, the women staged an anti-Putin performance, called 'Punk Prayer,' in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the saviour , calling for the Virgin Mary to 'chase Putin out.'
Pussy Riot's greatest achievement wasn't the performance that got them arrested. It was their casual cool in the face of the overreaction of Putin's Russian state. The closing statements in their trial were eloquent and damning criticisms of the government that ended up jailing the members for 2 years each.
In an era of partisan bickering, Chief Justice John Roberts made waves this year by going against the will of his own party and upholding Obamacare, President Obama's controversial healthcare reform plan.
The ruling was about more than just Obamacare. It restored some people's faith that justices might consider the legacy of the court -- and the law itself -- over their own political agendas.
While Roberts didn't hand Obama a complete victory, he did craft a novel legal argument to uphold a law that could benefit Americans for decades to come.
Statistician Nate Silver took on pundits across the country when he called Barack Obama a clear favourite in the election.
The New York Times stats guru stuck to his model, calculated from polling data across the country, even after the president's dismal performance in the first debate. Going into Election Night he forecast a near-92 per cent chance Obama would win.
Silver got the last laugh though, nailing all 50 state winners in the presidential race and 32/33 Senate winners.
He also published a best-selling book, The Signal And The Noise.
The queen of country pop Taylor Swift had an amazing year.
Her album 'Red' is an artistic breakthrough (producing several memorable songs), as well as a commercial one.
According to Billboard, her album had the 8th best one-week sales tally since 1991. The last album to sell as hot was Eminem's 'The Eminem Show.'
Swift broke new ground commercially in other areas. She's fully mastered the art of being a multi-platform musician, lending her name to everything from Keds to pizza to notebooks.
Amidst all of the commercial hype, Swift's creative genius often gets ignored, but it's there.
Even in her most simple track (the infectious 'We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together') there are at least 6 different 'hooks' in the track, including a raucous ending that mashes up all of the earlier parts in the song, for a real artistic triumph.
It has been a phenomenal year for photo-sharing website Instagram and its co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom.
Instagram is only about two years old, but it's already immensely popular. Within a month of launching back in October 2010, the site quickly grew to 1 million users. This year we saw it continue to grow exponentially; by March, the site had 27 million users.
In April, the company made headlines when Facebook bought Instagram for a whopping $1 billion. And today Instagram has over 100 million users, with six new members joining every second.
Given the vast amount of photos uploaded to Instagram, Systrom recently decided to pull its photos from Twitter's news feeds to help direct traffic to its new website. We imagine this tech genius will have even more up his sleeves in the months to come.
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