Michael Phelps vs. Ian Thorpe
These two very different swimmers dominated the early headlines at the Olympics, when swimming was still king. Thorpe, the renaissance man, kept cautioning everybody not to put too much pressure on Phelps, the obsessive chaser of Mark Spitz. The showdown came on Thorpe’s turf, in the 200-meter freestyle. When Thorpe won, Phelps’ quest for seven golds was effectively done. He managed six, anyway, with two bronzes. Not a bad haul.
U.S. men’s basketball vs. Puerto Rico
The Americans would get their come comeuppance several more times in this tournament, but the first one was the eye opener. The 92-73 rout demonstrated immediately that this Dream Team was not put together with an eye for international play. There was no shooter, and Larry Brown quickly distanced himself from the NBAers’ inevitable fate — a historic non-gold.
Complete dominance from U.S. softball
It was dominance we hadn’t seen at the Olympics since the 1992 U.S. men’s basketball team. Lisa Fernandez, Crystl Bustos and the rest of an incredibly talented crew outscored opponents 51-1 in its nine wins during the tournament, including not allowing a run until the last inning of the gold-medal win against Australia. The Americans were so dominant, in fact, that the IOC is talking about dropping softball as an Olympic sport because of lack of competition.
Paul Hamm’s sort-of gold
He came back from a spill in the vault with a dramatic come-from-behind victory in the men’s all-around. But then it was discovered that the bronze medalist, Yang Tae-young, was cheated by one-tenth of a point on his starting score in one apparatus. Yang should have won, we were told. Hamm understandably wouldn’t return his medal. Not so understandable: Jacque Rogge, the International Olympic Committee president, did nothing. He should have handed out two golds, same as the IOC did in 1992 for a similar judging error in synchronized swimming.
Carly Patterson’s real gold
Patterson,16, was steady and nerveless in the women’s all-around gymnastics competition, becoming the first American to capture the title since Mary Lou Retton 20 years ago. The only one who didn’t appreciate her effort was Svetlana Khorkina, the Russian diva, who said she was robbed.
Pyrros Dimas’ bronze in weightlifting
After the disaster of Konstantinos Kenteris’ scandal and withdrawal, the Greeks desperately needed a hero. They got one in Dimas, even though he failed to win his fourth straight gold medal in four Olympics. Dimas received a roaring ovation and left his shoes on the platform, retiring in almost mythological splendor.
The shotput events on Mount Olympus
A marvelous setting for an event that was rhapsodized by columnists and commentators everywhere. But then the winner in the women’s division,Irina Korzhanenko, tested positive and was forced to give back her medal. It was just another unfortunate setback for the Greeks, who had been forced to ditch their scheduled flame lighter, Kenteris, for his own drug scandal.
Robina Muqim Yaar
The17-year-old sprinter from Afghanistan talked before her race about training on cracked concrete, in the same soccer stadium where the Taliban hung suspected bombers from the goalposts. She just didn’t want to finish last at the Olympics, she said. Then she went out and ran the 100 in 14.14 seconds, beating an opponent from Somalia in her heat. “It was my gold medal,” Muqim Yaar said.
Mired in scandal and balancing the duties of athlete and mother, she failed miserably in two events, in the course of less than two hours. She finished fifth in the long jump, then combined with Lauryn Williams to mishandle the baton exchange in the 400-meter relay. “When I woke up this morning, this is not the way I expected this day to end,” Jones said, wiping away tears. “I would love to go out there and redo it again. I exceeded my wildest dreams in the negative sense.”
The U.S. women’s soccer team
The sport waved goodbye to its five pioneers, stars from the class of ‘91:Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett and maybe to Brandi Chastain and Kristine Lilly, too. And they went out in style, thanks to the efforts of their younger teammates. Abby Wambach headed in the winning goal in overtime to beat Brazil 2-1, and the Americans had their second gold medal in three Olympics. It was the only way to leave the scene. “I didn’t want to be kicking myself for the next 40 years,” Foudy said.
Israeli windsurfer Gal Fridman gets country’s first gold
You may not consider windsurfing a real sport, but Israeli sailor Gal Fridman captured the mistral event to become the first gold medalist in the history of his nation and the medals ceremony was worth the price of admission. After they raised his flag on the beach to the national anthem, a crush of journalists attacked the medals podium for an interview. His victory balanced a lesser Olympic story earlier on, when Iranian judoka Arash Miresmaeili, the defending world champion, came in overweight rather than fighting an Israeli opponent.
By Filip Bondy MSNBC ( http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5846517/ )
This Olympics is truly a spectacular event! Now I really want to go to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.