washingtonpost.com's Bill Grant will do anything in the endless pursuit of cheap laughs, including letting someone Photoshop a goofy wreath on his head.
Michael Phelps wins eight medals, tying the record for most at one Olympics with six golds and two bronzes. Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco becomes the first man in 80 years to sweep the Olympic middle-distance races, winning the 5,000 and outlasting rival Bernard Lagat of Kenya in the 1,500.

U.S. gymnast Paul Hamm wins the all-around, then endures a controversy involving a South Korean whose routine was incorrectly scored by judges. Hamm adds high bar and team silvers.

Carly Patterson becomes the first American woman to win the gymnastics all-around since Mary Lou Retton in 1984. She also got silvers in the team competition and on the beam.

The U.S. softball team -- led by Crystl Bustos, Jennie Finch, Cat Osterman and Lisa Fernandez -- dominates its gold-medal march, outscoring opponents 51-1.

The U.S. women's basketball team -- a star-studded lineup that includes Dawn Staley, Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes -- beats Australia, 74-63, for gold.

Andre Ward wins the light heavyweight gold, one of only two U.S. boxing medals.

The U.S. men's elite eight crew sets a world record in the semifinals, then ends a 40-year American drought in rowing gold medals.

Mariel Zagunis of the United States wins gold in saber -- the first for the U.S. fencing team since 1904 and first medal ever for the women.

U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin holds off the field to win the 100 meters in 9.85 seconds to claim the title of world's fastest man.

Jeremy Wariner wins the 400-meter run, leading a U.S. sweep with Otis Harris and Derrick Brew.

Abby Wambach's 10-yard header lifts the United States to a 2-1 win over Brazil for soccer gold in the last game for World Cup champion veterans Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett.

Kelly Holmes of Britain surges to win the 1,500 meters gold, clinching a rare middle distance Olympic double after winning the 800.

Israeli windsurfer Gal Fridman wins sailing's Mistral class, his nation's first Olympic gold medal.

Marion Jones leaves Athens without a medal after a botched handoff in the 400-meter relay and a mediocre fifth-place long jump. She won five medals four years ago in Sydney.

The U.S. men's basketball team loses its opening game to Puerto Rico by 19 points and adds two more losses on its way to a bronze medal.

World champion Perdita Felicien of Canada slams into a hurdle and knocks Russian Irina Shevchenko out of the 100-meter hurdles.

After winning gold in the 50-meter prone event, U.S. shooter Matt Emmons blows a great chance for another gold when he fires at the wrong target in three-position rifle.

Russian gymnastics diva Svetlana Khorkina falls off the uneven bars, leaving her without an Olympic gold in her specialty event.

American Allen Johnson, a four-time world champion and 1996 Olympic gold medalist, crashes in the second round of the 110 hurdles and failed to advance.

At least six medals -- three golds -- are revoked because of doping.

The Athens Olympics are hit by numerous scoring and judging disputes, affecting gymnastics, swimming, equestrian, rowing and fencing.

Fearing Worst, We Get Greece's Best

By Bill Grant
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Web Posted: Sunday, Aug. 27, 2004; 10:31 p.m. EDT

ATHENS -- Wheeeeeew. Nothing bad happened.

The Greeks spent $1.5 billion for security, including Patriot missiles and an omnipresent, chemical-sniffing blimp, and the worst that happens is that some kilt-clad religious zealot bolts from the crowd and tackles the leader of the marathon. Before Sunday, the biggest security breach had been another whack job in a pastel-blue tutu who did a swan dive into the diving pool. Proving once again that you can never trust men who don't wear pants in public.

For their part, American athletes gave organizers high marks for their efforts to keep them secure and that the money -- not a dime of which was theirs -- was well spent to guarantee the Olympics were safe.

"What an incredible job they've done of protecting all the athletes," said Baltimore County's Michael Phelps, the star of the Games with eight medals -- more than Sweden, Austria and Argentina.

"All I know is that nothing happened here," echoed Steven Lopez, a U.S. gold medalist in taekwondo. "It's always better being safe than sorry."

"I'd like to say, 'Thank goodness,' " offered soccer's Mia Hamm, who carried the U.S. flag at Sunday's Closing Ceremonies. "We knew [the security force] was there. We saw it, but it wasn't overwhelming. It didn't make you nervous."

Other than Phelps's riveting performance, the unlikely success of Iraq's soccer team and yet another judging debacle, these Games will be remembered for what didn't  happen: death, destruction, disaster. The venues and buildings opened on time, and the events ran smoothly. The lights and air conditioning continued to hum. The smog, gridlock, labor strikes and rampaging stray dogs opted to go elsewhere. After years of gloom-and-doom predictions, Greece got it done.

At the same time, the Games lacked a certain pizzazz, passion, spirit and festival atmosphere, not to mention basics like grass and shade. Blame this on security precautions that scared away many tourists and locked out all but those who had tickets, leaving isolated and at times eerie venues.

The Games themselves were not without low points. There were a record number of athletes -- 22 -- sent home after being caught using steroids, stimulants and other drugs, and there was the usual acrimony over judging, scoring and global politics. Some things never change.

The collective sigh of relief was perhaps loudest from the Americans, who are heading home happy and relieved and with 103 medals, but only 35 gold, lowest since 1976.

They were told before they arrived to be on their best behavior and for the most part they were. There were no major international incidents, no failed drug tests, no trashing of hotel rooms, no mugging for the cameras, no shenanigans with the flag. Restraint ruled the day.

In the end, you can nitpick about whether the wreaths were a good idea (heaven knows we got enough mileage out of that one), whether Paul Hamm really won gold, whether any other men's Olympic basketball team except the 1992 squad should be called Dream Team. But we think ole Baron Pierre de Coubertin had the right idea when he revived the Olympic Games. There was an awful lot of things that were right about what went on here for the past 17 days.

Media Musings
Said NBC host Bob Costas on the dressage medal ceremony: "Why don't the horses get to wear the wreaths?"
A reader of the the Los Angeles Times poses this question regarding the U.S. men's basketball team's third-place finish: "Will they now call the Cleveland Cavaliers' No. 23 'Le Bronze'?"
Headline on the back page of Sunday's New York Post: "We're No. 3."
America Online columnist Jim Armstrong on reports that golf might be added as an Olympic sport for the 2012 Games: "Perfect. Maybe Tiger will have his swing straightened out by then."
Gil Lebreton of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram could not believe all the crying when wrestler Rulon Gardner retired after his last Olympic match: "Rulon was crying. Rulon's wife was crying. Rulon's coach was crying. The Iranian guy that Rulon beat was crying. ... There were so many teary eyes, in fact ... a gymnastics meet almost broke out."

And the Winner Is ...
On Aug. 22, we asked readers to guess what the following costs a paying customer at an Olympic venue:
• 4 hot dogs
• 4 boxes of popcorn
• 2 bottles of Coke (500 ml)
• 2 cans of Heineken (400 ml)
• 2 ice cream cups
Here's the breakdown: the hot dogs (not too bad) are 3 Euros each; the popcorn, also 3 Euros each; the bottles of Coke (don't even think about getting a Pepsi) are 1 Euro each; the Heinekens are 2 Euros each; and the ice cream cups are each €1.70. That adds up to €33.40 by our math, about $41. None of our readers hit it right on the nose, but one, Martha L. Courtney, came within 10 cents. She guessed €33.50. We gave lots of thought about invoking the "Price Is Right" rule, but in the spirit of the Games, she will be receiving some washingtonpost.com stuff, none of which is available at any Olympic concession stand.

From the E-mail Bag
This oberservation from Cindy Merrill of Medway, Maine: "What truly broke my heart was the attack on the Brazilian runner [Vanderlei de Lima, pictured] in the marathon: There were three victims, not just one. The gold and silver finalists will forever wonder if they deserve their medals, had fate not intervened on their behalf. I'm sure the protester must be proud of himself. Under the circumstances, [Lima] reacted with extreme grace, dignity and joy; I hope he receives a hero's welcome when he returns home."

From Steve Amoia in Washington, D.C.: "The Iraqi soccer team should be commended for their Olympic spirit. They were airlifted out of Iraq by the Royal Australian Air Force and didn't even have uniforms. Although they failed to earn a medal, these $100-a-game club side players beat the millionaires from Portugal, and played some exciting football. In a show of solidarity with the Italians at the bronze medal game, both teams posed together for a group photo. The captain of Iraq presented a bouquet of flowers to the Italian captain, Andrea Pirlo. An Italian journalist, Enzo Baldoni, was executed on Thursday by terrorists when Italy refused to remove their troops from Iraq. The Italian players dedicated the game to his memory. In a competition marred by several shows of bad sportsmanship, the Iraqis should be complimented for doing a lot with a little, and for demonstrating the true spirit of the Olympic games."

More on NBC's coverage from Bob Horning in Emporium, Pa.: "They did it again. The coverage of wrestling (or lack thereof) by NBC has continued a long tradition of disrespecting one of the original classic sports of the Olympics. Sure, most viewers don't understand the scoring, etc., so it's hard to show entire matches. But seeing great throws, and finishes would excite anyone."

From Peter D. Marshall of Vienna: " ... I just wanted to send a message to all those Redskins-lovin' type sports fans: The real American champions of this Olympics have been the women's teams: softball, beach volleyball, soccer, basketball. They've had it all over the men since Day 1. Anyone who didn't watch these missed out on some of the best competition of the entire Games. I hope this success will spur more male sports fans to become more interested in women's sports. I hope so, but I doubt it."

We had several e-mails regarding the question about the towels divers use when they get out of the pool. David Wilhite, of Bellingham, Wash., reports that the towels are chamois-like cloths that absorb 50 percent more than a natural chamois and are unaffected by most chemicals, including chlorine. He adds that divers take a shower between dives because the chemicals used to disinfect the pool, left to dry, will damage the skin. What we don't see, he adds, is that swimmers take their showers off camera.

Finally, Miriam St. Clair of Woodbridge writes about the U.S. women's 4x100 relay team and their flubbed handoff Friday: "Marion Jones might have left Athens without a medal but she is a class act. When the American women fouled during the relay, Jones immediately put her arm around Lauryn Williams, letting her know that it was an accident and accidents happen. This classy veteran athlete helped the novice athlete overcome a bad situation in a wonderfully supportive manner, exhibiting the true spirit of the Olympics."

528 Days and the Clock Is Ticking
Finally, now that the Athens Games are behind us, we can turn our attention to the Italian Alps, where in 528 days -- about 17½ months -- the Olympic flame will be lit in Turin for the 2006 Winter Games. Can't wait, can you?

As always, we want to thank our colleagues at Reuters, the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times for their contributions to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

The Olympic flame was extinguished Sunday night in Athens, punctuating two weeks of athletic competition and several years of doubts with spirited ceremonies. (Petros Giannakouris - AP)
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