Greece celebrates successful Games

Farewell: Golden moments prevail over judging errors, doping scandals and terrorism fears.

Athens Olympics -- 2004 -- Closing Ceremonies

August 30, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ATHENS - Under the soft light of a full moon, the Greeks said goodbye to the sports spectacle they invented in 776 B.C. and revived in 1896.

After 16 days of competition, the 28th Summer Olympiad ended its run in a ceremony filled with folk music, dancing and sighs of relief.

This was the Olympics burdened with the fears of construction delays and terrorism. But the venues were done on time and everyone remained safe.

Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, the Athens 2004 president, drew a roar from the crowd of 72,000 with her opening remarks.

"I ask our foreign guests: Did you enjoy yourselves in Greece?" she asked. "We loved having you here. You wave your national flags. You stood for every anthem. You danced to our music. We even heard you speak your first words of Greek. To you, we say, thank you."

Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, pronounced himself satisfied with the Athens Olympics.

"Dear Greek friends, you have won," he said to much cheering.

Earlier, Rogge told reporters he never doubted that the organizers would accelerate construction and meet their deadline.

"I'm an extremely happy president of the IOC," Rogge said. "I've always said I believed there was enough time to finish the preparations in due time. Many did not believe me. I think our friends have delivered in Athens in a very splendid way."

Slow start, big finish

Like the preparations, the Games started slowly, with lagging ticket sales and sparse attendance. Ticket scalpers blamed bad publicity, terrorism and a slow European economy.

But the second week came back gangbusters.

"We knew we would host successful Games because the stakes for Greece were huge. And we knew because of our Olympic heritage we would do a good job," said Achilles Paparsenos, the press officer for the Greek Embassy in Washington. "The results speak for themselves. All of the so-called experts should apologize to Greece at some point."

With a total of 103 medals, the U.S. team exceeded the total of 97 four years ago in Sydney, Australia, and met its goal of 100 medals. But just 35 medals were gold, fewer than the 40 in Sydney and 44 in Atlanta in 1996.

The U.S. team also won 39 silver medals and 29 bronze. Russia finished second in total medals with 92; China finished third with 63.

For the first week, these were the Michael Phelps Olympics. If he were a nation, Phelps would have tied Thailand, Denmark, Kazakhstan and the Czech Republic for 24th out of 202 nations in total medals. The Baltimore County swimmer won eight, equaling the record for most at one Olympics with six gold and two bronze medals. But he could not eclipse Mark Spitz's 1972 record of seven gold medals.

And there were other notable U.S. accomplishments. After disastrous showings in Sydney four years ago, Americans were crowned the all-around men's and women's gymnastics champions, and both teams earned silver medals.

But while Carly Patterson is being hailed as the new Mary Lou Retton, winner of the previous women's all-around gold medal in 1984, Paul Hamm is fighting to keep his gold.

A scoring error allowed Hamm to slip past South Korean Yang Tae Young, and team officials didn't challenge the result until too late. Hours before the start of the closing ceremony, Yang filed a protest with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which will hear the dispute in Lausanne, Switzerland, home of the International Olympic Committee.

Despite the medals harvest, there are ominous signs for other U.S. sports. The men's basketball team had to settle for a bronze medal, and the men's soccer and baseball teams didn't even qualify. The U.S. sailing team won just two medals - a gold and a silver - tying its worst showing in 20 years.

And there are troubling signs for the Olympics, which picked up a new nickname: the Doping Games.

The final tally of athletes stripped of their medals or disciplined isn't known, but is expected to top two dozen after the IOC analyzes samples.

The list grew almost daily and included the Hungarian gold medalist in discus and silver medalist in hammer throw, the Russian gold medalist in women's shot put, a Belarus high jumper, a Kenyan boxer, two Greek baseball players and two Greek sprinters, a Swiss cyclist, a Spanish canoeist and an Irish distance runner.

Nearly one in four athletes was tested, and Rogge said the IOC will expand its program over the next two Olympics.

"These were the Games where it became increasingly difficult to cheat," he said.

But there were magical moments, too.

Athletes set 15 world records in six sports.

Windsurfer Gal Fridman won Israel's first gold medal.

U.S. women earned gold in soccer, basketball and softball, led by Mia Hamm, Dawn Staley and Lisa Fernandez, players heading for retirement.

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