Tuesday, August 31, 2004

No terror, great venues, success


The Greeks accomplished what many said could not be done: built Olympic-quality venues, literally in the midst of ruins, and ran a world-class sporting event in the Mediterranean free of terrorism.

Of course, the past two weeks were not without problems: More than 20 athletes, including three gold medallists, were banned from the games amid doping violations, and a judging scandal still taints a gold medal won by American Paul Hamm. But overall, we can call the games of the XXVIII Olympiad a success.

Greece, a country known for its rousing hospitality and the ancient birthplace of the Olympic Games, did not disappoint. Earlier expectations seemed too pessimistic. It was said the country's roads were not sufficient for Olympic traffic, venues could not be finished, and security would be too lax.

The naysayers were wrong, and the countries who participated in the games were the beneficiaries. Athens built sophisticated new venues that meshed well with its ancient architecture. Greece spent a record $1.5 billion on security, and some 70,000 security personnel for the entire event.

The only obvious breach came in Sunday's signature event, the marathon, when a crazed spectator pushed then-leader Vanderlei de Lima into the crowd, possibly costing him the race.

As was expected, the United States won the most medals (103), besting Russia and China, which had 92 and 63, respectively. Thirty-five of those medals were gold.

They included gold medals in sports that require skill and superior teamwork: women's basketball, soccer, beach volleyball and softball, as well as three team swimming events.

And they included emotional individual wins: Hamm and Carly Patterson in gymnastics.

The Olympics are over for another four years, but the stories of triumph are available for the ages.

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