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Athens 2004 - Overview

China boning up

A hundred and eight years after the first modern Olympiad, the 2004 Summer Games returned to their birthplace Athens and were notable for an impressive leap forward in performances from Asian nations, and above all China who would host the Games in 2008.

The ever dominant United States were again the best performers in Greece with 103 medals, of which 35 were gold. But China sent them a chilling warning that a tilt at their crown would be made in Beijing with an impressive second best of 63 medals with a huge 32 of them gold.

It was long feared Athens would not be ready for the Games but the Greeks silenced their sceptics with an Olympian effort in the last few months. Albeit however at a mammoth cost of 8 billion euros, making them the most expensive Games ever.

That budget was swollen by a huge security bill of 1.2 billion in the first post September 11 Summer Games, which went off without any security hitches.

El-Guerrouj and Phelps on the podium

The sporting action was also a great success with some historic performances. The Olympic stadium vibrated to the exploits of middle distance runners, Hicham El-Guerrouj of Morocco winning the 1,500 and 5,000m and Britain's Kelly Holmes also bagging a glorious double in the women's races at 800m and 1500m.

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

The only new world record was set by Russian woman Yelena Isinbayeva who cleared 4.91m in the pole vault.

In the pool, 19-year-old American all-rounder Michael Phelps was in a class of his own speeding to 8 medals, six of them gold. Phelps had been talked up as successor to Mark Spitz, who won seven gold at Munich 1972. He did however become the swimmer with the highest medal haul at one Games.

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

The US basketball team fell spectacularly from grace only managing third in the event having won at the previous three occasions. Argentina won it, a day after winning their first gold in over 50 years where their star Carlos Tevez led the way to football triumph with a personal tally of eight goals.

On the doping front there were 25 confirmed cases including many gold medallists. 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 were subsequently sidelined from the Games.

Belgian IOC president Jacques Rogge oversaw his first Summer Games with relative praise and looked toward Beijing 2008 with optimism. As did China, who won their first ever athletics gold when 21-year-old Liu Xiang burst down the 110m hurdles track in an electrifying race in which he also equalled the world record.

Copyright 2008 Agence France-Presse.

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