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Last Updated: Monday, 20 December, 2004, 11:58 GMT
Olympic action lights up Athens

The Athens Olympics proved a sporting highlight of 2004, particularly from a British perspective with Team GB taking 30 medals, including nine golds.

The Greek capital won its race to be ready in time and allayed fears of hosting a Games to forget.

The missed drugs tests of local stars Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou overshadowed the opening ceremony.

But while three athletes were later stripped of gold, the Olympic spirit shone in a memorable sporting show.

Team GB had its ups and downs, but enjoyed a decent dividend.

The sports of rowing, cycling, sailing and equestrianism laid the foundations for the best British return since the boycotted Los Angeles Games in 1984.

However, the star of the team was athlete Kelly Holmes who finished with gold in both the 800m and 1500m.

"All the ups and downs I've had, I think they've made me the athlete I am. Everything I've ever dreamed of has come true," the 34-year-old said.

Bradley Wiggins was another to catch the eye, the cyclist becoming the first Briton since 1964 to win three medals at one Games, and Chris Hoy won gold.

Wiggins' clean sweep of podium places included a gold in the 4km pursuit, silver in the team pursuit and bronze in the madison with Rob Hayles.

Matthew Pinsent, Ed Coode, James Cracknell and Steve Williams celebrate Olympic gold on the podium
This could be the greatest ever day for Britain at an Olympics
Simon Clegg, BOA chief
Matthew Pinsent also took the headlines with a fourth Olympic rowing title.

"It's been a superb performance by the team. For once we can say we have had a fantastic Games," Pinsent said.

Pinsent's gold, in partnership with Ed Coode, James Cracknell and Steve Williams, came in dramatic style.

The coxless four came from behind to pip Canada in a photo finish, a win that heralded a British gold rush on what was dubbed "Super Saturday".

So it proved with further titles for Ben Ainslie in sailing's Finn class and Shirley Robertson's Yngling crew.

Wiggins won the pursuit before three-day eventing's Leslie Law saw his silver upgraded to gold.

The major disappointment came in the athletics, where a distraught Paula Radcliffe pulled out of the marathon at the 23-mile mark under blazing skies.

But in Holmes the sport found a new golden girl after her two track golds.

And the men's 4x100m relay team added further gloss to the track and field return, racing to victory ahead of USA.

Like Radcliffe, the swimming team had a disappointing return, although matched performance director Bill Sweetenham's prediction of two medals.

The focus in the pool was on two of the Olympiad's star athletes, Ian Thorpe of Australia and the USA's Michael Phelps.

Thorpe won their only head-to-head battle, claiming gold in the 200m freestyle - "The Race of the Century".

The Australian finished with two golds and four medals, but it was the American's assault on eight golds that captured the imagination.

Phelps left Athens as the joint most decorated Olympian at a single Games with six golds and two bronzes.

The USA dominated in the pool, where they won 28 medals, and in athletics, where they won 25.

Of their eight track and field golds, three came in the men's sprints where they swept the 200m and 400m podiums.

But the star of the track was Hicham El Guerrouj who, like Holmes, finished with a golden distance double.

The Moroccan finally managed to crown his glorious career with the Olympic gold he craved when he won the 1500m, before later claiming the 5000m title.

IOC president Jacques Rogge hailed the Athens Olympics as "unforgettable".

"The organisation was outstanding and we had competitions in state-of-the-art venues," said Rogge, who described the security precautions as "flawless".

"These were the Games where it became increasingly difficult to cheat and where clean athletes were protected."

Rogge also paid tribute to the medal hauls of China, Japan and South Korea, describing their efforts as the "awakening of Asia".

China celebrated their best Olympics, finishing in second place behind the USA, with 63 medals.

They won their first track golds with titles from 110m hurdler Xiang Liu and Xing Huina in the women's 10,000m.

And there were medals across the board, including a shock victory in the women's tennis doubles and gold for Xujuan Luo in the women's 100m breaststroke.

It bodes well for the Beijing Olympics, which have a lot to live up to after Athens, despite those early doubts.

Links to more Olympics 2004 stories


Golden Kelly Holmes realises a lifelong dream

Matthew Pinsent reflects on his fourth gold



Highlights of 2004


The defining images


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