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Athens 2004 - Overview

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One hundred eight years after the first modern Olympics, the Summer Games returned to their birthplace in Athens. The 2004 Games were notable for an impressive leap forward in performances by Asian nations, especially China.

The United States was again the best overall performer in Greece, finishing with 102 medals, 36 of which were gold. But China sent a warning that battle might be made in 2008 in Beijing with an impressive second-best showing: 63 medals, 32 gold.

It was long feared that Athens would not be ready for the Games, but the Greeks silenced their skeptics with an Olympian effort in the final few months, albeit at a mammoth cost of 8 billion euros, making these the most expensive Games ever.

In addition, the budget was swollen by a huge security bill of 1.2 billion euros in the first Summer Games since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Games went off without any security hitches.

El-Guerrouj and Phelps on the podium

The sporting action also was a great success with some historic performances. The Olympic stadium vibrated to the exploits of middle-distance runners Hicham El-Guerrouj of Morocco (who won the 1,500-meter and 5,000-meter races) and Kelly Holmes of Britian (who won the women's 800 and 1,500).

Ethiopian star Kenenisa Bekele was unstoppable in the 10,000, while an American trio of Justin Gatlin (100), Shawn Crawford (200) and Jeremy Wariner (400) maintained the proud stateside track record.

The only new world record was set by Russian Yelena Isinbayeva, who cleared 4.91 meters in the women's pole vault.

In the pool, 19-year-old American Michael Phelps was in a class of his own, speeding to eight medals, six of them gold. Phelps had been talked up as the successor to Mark Spitz, who won seven gold in 1972 at Munich. He did become the swimmer with the highest medal haul at one Games.

Ian Thorpe won swimming's most exciting race, the men's 200-meter freestyle, edging back on the last lap to beat his great rival, Pieter Van den Hoogenband.

The U.S. men's basketball team fell from grace, managing only the bronze after having won gold at the previous three Olympics. Argentina took the title in 2004, one day after the country won its first gold in more than 50 years when star Carlos Tevez tallied eight goals to lead the soccer team to triumph.

On the doping front, there were 25 confirmed cases, including many gold medalists. But the greatest disappointment was the affair over Greek sprinters Ekaterini Thanou and Konstantinos Kenteris, who failed to show up for a drug test and subsequently were sidelined.

IOC president Jacques Rogge of Belgium oversaw his first Summer Games with relative praise and now can look toward Beijing with optimism. As can China, which won its first track and field gold when 21-year-old Liu Xiang burst down the 110 hurdles track in an electrifying race in which he equalled the world record.

Copyright 2008 Agence France-Presse.

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