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Olympics go out with a bang

Posted: Monday, October 02, 2000

SYDNEY, Australia -- The Sydney Games bid farewell to the world Sunday in an Aussie-sized extravaganza of exuberance, sparkling the skies and rocking Olympic Stadium in a closing ceremony bursting with the exhilaration of the land they call Oz.

But before the party, there were a few final stars.

Gezahgne Abera of Ethiopia won the Sydney Olympics' final event -- the 26.2-mile marathon -- striding into the stadium just a few hours before it was taken over by the robots on stilts, the Frankenstein kangaroo and the giant shrimp on bicycles that helped Sydney cap its games.

The U.S. ''Dream Team'' survived another bad dream to capture the gold in an 85-75 victory over France -- two days after beating Lithuania by just two points. On Sunday, France cut a 12-point deficit to four with four minutes left. But Vince Carter double-pumped before dunking with 1:40 left and the Americans scored nine of the game's final 12 points.

Emily deRiel of Haverford, Pa., stunned even herself by winning the silver medal in the first Olympic women's modern pentathlon. ''I don't know how it happened. I really don't,'' said deRiel, who started competing at the international level only this year.

There were a few down notes: The U.S. boxers and freestyles wrestlers found themselves shut out of Olympic gold for the first time in decades, and the struggling U.S. men's water polo team lost to Italy to finish sixth in the tournament.

But by the day's end, there was only celebration as Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, gave the tens of thousands packed into Olympic Stadium the words they wanted to hear:

''I am proud and happy to proclaim that you have presented to the world the best Olympic Games ever.''

And what Down Under Olympic closing ceremony could be complete without one last rendition of the cheer now known around the world (though not usually in Samaranch's Spanish accent):

''Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!'' chanted the 80-year-old IOC chief.

''Oi! Oi! Oi!'' thundered the crowd.

The United States led the way in the final medal tally, collecting 97 (39 gold, 25 silver and 33 bronze). Russia was second with 88 (32, 28 and 28), and China third with 59 (28, 16, 15). Australia was fourth, with 58.

Greco-Roman gold medalist Rulon Gardner, who ended the 13-year undefeated streak of Russian super heavyweight Alexander Karelin, carried the U.S. flag during the closing ceremony.

n BASKETBALL: They got the gold. But it was not, as a teary Vin Baker noted, an easy journey for the U.S. men's basketball team.

The final victory margin of 10 points against France was the lowest ever for the United States in a gold-medal victory, and the fifth time in these Olympics that the Americans won by 15 or fewer points.

Lithuania won its third consecutive bronze by beating host Australia 89-71 on Sunday.

n BOXING: The U.S. boxing team, which arrived in Sydney hoping to reverse its recent Olympic fortunes, wound up without a single gold medal for the first time since London in 1948.

U.S. boxer Ricardo Juarez lost Sunday to 125-pounder Bekzat Sattarkhanov of Kazakstan, 22-14, giving him a silver medal and leaving the American team with one last shot at winning its only gold in Australia.

America's Ricardo Williams lost 27-20 to Mahamadkadyz Abdullaev of Uzbekistan in his gold medal bout at 139 pounds.

n WRESTLING: Disaster struck quickly with four straight losses Sunday, dashing any hopes of a U.S. gold -- the first time that's happened since Mexico City in 1968.

Ex-Iowa wrestlers Terry Brands and Lincoln McIlravy lost close semifinal matches; Brands and McIlravy won later to each take a bronze. Kerry McCoy and Charles Burton lost tight quarterfinal matches and were shut out of the medals.

n MARATHON: Abera, 22, the runner-up this year in the closest Boston Marathon ever, captured the gold ahead of Eric Wainaina of Kenya and Tesfaye Tola of Ethiopia.

It marked the first marathon medal for Ethiopia since a bronze in 1972.

n DRUGS: The Sydney Games' last day started with an all-too-familiar refrain: three Olympians, one a bronze medalist, busted for steroids.

Armenian lifter Ashot Danielyan was stripped of his medal after a positive test for the steroid nandrolone, becoming the fourth weightlifter to test positive in the Summer Games.

Greco-Roman wrestler Fritz Aanes of Norway also tested positive for nandrolone after losing a bronze-medal match Wednesday, IOC medical commission chairman Prince Alexander de Merode said Sunday. De Merode also formally announced that Russian 400-meter runner Svetlana Pospelova tested positive for the steroid stanozolol in an out-of-competition test at the games.

Eight athletes tested positive in Sydney since the games began Sept. 16, with more than 50 others caught in pre-games tests around the world.

The eight drug positives are quadruple the two recorded at the Atlanta Games in 1996 and the most at a Summer Games since 10 in Seoul in 1988.

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-- WATER POLO: A 10-8 loss to Italy left the U.S. squad with a sixth-place finish in Sydney -- one spot up from 1996, but still a disappointment. The United States finished with a record of 2-5-1 in the competition.

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-- PENTATHLON: DeRiel settled -- happily -- for silver after Stephanie Cook of Britain caught her during the last lap of the 3-kilometer run. Kate Allenby of Britain won the bronze, and Mary Beth Iagorashvili of San Antonio finished fourth.

DeRiel's medal was the first for an American since 1960, when Robert Beck won the bronze. The last American to win a silver was George Moore in 1948.



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