Games produces both style and suspense, but also spills, bad sportsmanship and things unusual

Doing it in style. Japan’s Yukiki Ueno pitched the first-ever perfect game in Olympic women’s softball, helping her team to a bronze. Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele, 22, took Haile Gebreselassie’s 10,000-meter title with an awesome final lap, challenging for the mantle of the world’s best distance runner. He added to this a silver in the men’s 5,000 meters. Greece’s Dimosthenis Tampakos put on a scintillating routine to win the men’s rings competition in gymnastics. China’s Hu Jia and Australia’s Matthew Helm hit 10s in their final dives to claim gold and silver in the men’s 10-meter platform. Russia’s Yelena Slesarenko won the women’s high jump, not missing at a single height until she had the gold and a new Olympic record and was attempting a new world mark. Her compatriot, Yuriy Borzakovskiy, charged from behind to win the men’s 800 meters. Take that. Cuba’s Osleidys Menendez tossed her first javelin beyond the line markers for a new Olympic record of 71.53 meters, some 8 meters (over 25 feet) beyond anybody else in the first round. The rest of the competition was a race for second, though it still came to a riveting close as Greece’s Mirella Manjani, in third place for much of the evening but pushed to fourth in the penultimate round, closed with a bronze medal-winning throw. Australia’s Ian Thorpe, outshone by Phelps, handily won their only, much-hyped head-to-head race in the 200-meter freestyle race that denied Phelps a chance to break Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals. Punching above their weight. New Zealand, with 3.5 million people, took both gold and silver in the strenuous men’s Olympic triathlon, by Hamish Carter and Bevan Docherty. Small-island nations Jamaica, Trinidad, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas all won track medals. Denmark, slightly bigger, won their third straight women’s handball gold medal, over Korea, after three heart-stopping extra times and a penalty shootout. The teams were so evenly matched they both deserved to win. Australia again dominated cycling, winning the men’s team pursuit after setting a world record in the qualifiers. Its women as well as men earned gold, both on the track as well as on the road, when Sara Carrigan charged to victory on the first day of the Games. Just short. Namibia’s Frank Fredericks, 37, silver medalist back in 1992 and in his final Games, calmed the crowd before the 200-meter final, then almost nipped 100-meter winner Justin Gatlin of the US for the bronze. Jamaican-turned-Slovenian Merlene Ottey, 44, just missed out on qualifying in the women’s 100 meters. Her first Olympics was at Moscow in 1980. Spills and chills. Greek cyclist Lambros Vassilopoulos fell on the final straight in the men’s Keirin second round as he dashed to the line, taking the Netherlands’ Theo Bos down with him. For his pains, he was relegated from the finals. At least four riders went down hard that afternoon, yet none were badly injured. Greece’s Eleni Daniilidou, ahead in her second-round match, fell to the ground in pain, got up, played, fell again, battled away, and beat Bulgaria’ s Magdalena Maleeva, earning a standing ovation. However, she lost in the next round. On a demandingly hilly and curvy cycling course in downtown Athens the first weekend, Dutch triple gold medalist from 2000, Leontine Zijlaard-van Moorsel, took a spill along a wide straight stretch near Omonia Square, ending her race unceremoniously. She returned to win the time trial. Thoroughly unusual. Paul Hamm of the US was awarded the all-around gold in men’s gymnastics despite a judging error that the federation freely admitted but is not empowered to do anything about. It wrote Hamm a letter asking him to return it; he refused. Aaron Piersol, the world’s best backstroker, was disqualified for a turn after winning gold in the 200 meters. It was reinstated 20 minutes and much booing later. India, the world’s biggest democracy but perennial Olympics laggard with exactly one medal at these Games, perhaps got a running boost from its first-ever sight of the Olympic torch in June. Its women’s 4×400 relay team emerged from nowhere to make the final with the second fastest qualifying time. It finished seventh. A 14-year-old Malaysian boy diver, Bryan Nickson, who looks far younger and weighs a mere 30 kilograms, just missed qualifying for the semifinals. These superb Olympic Games started on a strange note and ended even more weirdly when the marathon leader, Brazil’s Vanderlei de Lima, was shoved to the side by a mad defrocked priest in a costume. He lost ground, rhythm and eventually the lead, though took home the bronze – along with a special IOC medal for good sportsmanship, and the good will of an enthusiastic crowd. Italy’s Stefano Baldini won.

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