Familiar faces on medal stands, but also new ones
All for one. The unheralded British 4x100m men’s relay team, maximizing teamwork and deft handovers, defeated the heavily favored US sprinters, bringing out the Union Jacks for their first win in the event since 1912. Argentina had a team-filled final weekend, winning the men’s basketball after beating the US in Friday’s semifinals. The next day it added gold in the men’s soccer tournament, in which Iraq came out of nowhere to make the semifinals. France took both the men’s team saber and team epee in fencing, continuing a dominance of the sport dating back to 1896. Italy tied the French with three fencing golds. Never say die. US swimmer Ian Crocker, sub-par because of a throat infection and beaten to the wire in his specialty, the 100-meter butterfly, by the omnipresent Michael Phelps, roared back to lead the US team to gold in the medley relay. Australia’s Lisbeth Lenton did similarly, not even making the final in the women’s 100 meters despite being the world recordholder in the event. However, she later compensated by helping her team to an upset freestyle relay gold. China’s women’s volleyball team came back from two sets to love to beat Russia for the gold. Spoilers. Mozambique’s Maria Mutola, who has dominated the women’s 800 meters for a decade, came within 13 hundredths of a second of winning another gold, yet was shut out of the medals (she placed fourth). China’s sweep of men’s and women’s singles and doubles table tennis titles for the third Olympics running was stopped in its tracks by Korea’s Ryu Seung-Min, who won the men’s singles final in a tight five-setter. Like old times. Old East-West echoes emerged briefly as US sprinters received all three 200-meter medals in easily the most unpopular event of these Games after the Kenteris fiasco; within the hour, three Russian women long jumpers had swept away the competition. The US and Russia wound up atop the overall medals table, again, though China was a strong second in gold medals and won’t be denied in the future. The US took the top two places in the men’s pole vault, with Timothy Mack clearing an Olympic-record 5.95m to defeat Toby Stevenson; Russians Yelena Isinbayeva (in a new world record) and Svetlana Feofanova did the same in the women’s event. US long jumpers also took the top two spots; Russians did it in both synchronized swimming and both rhythmic gymnastics events. US wrestler Daniel Cormier gave Russia’s Khadjimourat Gatsalov a bloody nose, then got pinned when the latter returned to the 96kg freestyle event, which he eventually won. New stars. Michael Phelps’s shone brightest in Athens, yet he had thundered into world attention at last year’s world championships. As a 15-year-old, he swam at Sydney, but did not medal; he more than compensated at Athens, taking home eight medals, six gold. Nor is his US compatriot Natalie Coughlin new to the sport, yet her five medals at Athens was her first Games success after years of injury and illness. China served notice of its arrival in Olympic track and field as Xing Huina, 20, outsprinted three of Ethiopia’s best female distance runners in the 10,000 meters. Her compatriot Liu Xiang, 21, outdueled better-known American and Cuban rivals to win the 110-meter hurdles in a world record-equaling pace of 12.91 seconds. Chile’s Nicolas Massu came out of nowhere to win not one but two tennis golds, in singles and in doubles, the latter with Fernando Gonzalez. Carly Patterson, 16, of the US took the women’s all-round gymnastics gold in a tight competition decided by three nailed double flips in her finale, the floor exercise. Fani Halkia of Greece set an Olympic record in the semifinals of the women’s 400-meter hurdles, then won the gold handily. The whole stadium practically shook from the celebration. Her compatriot Athanassia Tsoumeleka emerged from obscurity to win the women’s 20km walk, which, with Chrysopygi Devetzi second in the triple jump and Anastasia Kelesidou winning silver at the discus, gave Greek athletics a badly needed, female boost.