Athens Olympics, Most Expensive Ever
Aug. 30 (Bloomberg) -- The most expensive Olympics concluded in Athens after a slew of records, judging errors and drug cases, and a message of congratulations for Greece.
U.S. Olympic President Peter V. Ueberroth said the Greeks held ``among the greatest, if not the greatest Games.'' The host country spent 7 billion euros ($8.6 billion) staging them, completing preparations weeks before the start as construction delays and cost overruns lifted the budget by 52 percent.
The first Olympics since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington closed without a major security case. Disputes over judging and a record number of competitors expelled over drugs deflected attention from athletes including U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps, who won a record-tying eight medals.
``These have been unforgettable, dream Games,'' Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, said in his closing speech in the main Olympic stadium.
On the final day, a spectator ran onto the marathon course and pushed the leader, Brazil's Vanderlei Lima. The spectator was arrested and described by police as having ``acute psychological disorders.'' Lima finished third behind winner Stefano Baldini of Italy.
Phelps, 19, won six gold medals and needs four more titles in Beijing in 2008 to get the all-time mark. German kayaker Birgit Fischer, 42, moved within two of the record with her eighth gold medal.
U.K. rower Matthew Pinsent got a fourth straight gold medal, and Japan's judoka Tadahiro Nomura and Poland's 50-kilometer walker Robert Korzeniowski won their third consecutive titles. Thirty-seven world records were matched or broken.
Australia's Ian Thorpe added two swimming titles to his three from Sydney in 2000, while Kelly Holmes of the U.K. won the 1,500 meters and 800 meters. Hicham El Guerrouj, the dominant middle-distance runner for a decade, secured his first Olympic golds in the 1,500 and 5,000 meters.
The Moroccan's first win was in one of several close finishes, none more so than the men's 100 meters final. Justin Gatlin led a quartet separated by 0.04 seconds.
``I was shockingly fast,'' the 22-year-old American said after his 9.85-second run, the second-best Olympic time.
The U.S. men's basketball team, seeking a fourth straight title, lost its first games since National Basketball Association players joined in 1992 and got a bronze medal.
Marathon record-holder Paula Radcliffe of the U.K. dropped out of her two events. Matthew Emmons of the U.S. led before his final shot in the 50-meter rifle competition, when he fired at the wrong target.
That cost him a medal and handed victory to China, one of 32 golds and a national-record 63 medals for the 2008 host. The U.S. won the most medals for the third straight Olympics. Its haul of 103 was the highest since 1992. Russia won 27 gold medals, the third-most, while Australia got 17 and Japan had 16, matching its best since 1964.
Three champions, two from Hungary, were stripped of their gold medals because of doping violations -- part of an Olympic- record 24 athletes ejected for drugs. The previous high was 12 in 1984. More than 3,500 tests were taken, up 25 percent from Sydney.
Two athletes who didn't take a test brought the drug issue to the fore. Greece's Kostas Kenteris and Ekaterini Thanou, sprint medalists at the 2000 Games, dropped out of the Olympics before attending an IOC hearing into their unavailability for tests on the eve of the Games.
IOC officials, athletes and spectators praised the organization of an Olympics whose build-up was dominated by security worries and concern that the venues wouldn't be ready. Greece is the smallest country to hold the Olympics in 52 years.
Empty seats in stadiums were commonplace at the start. The Athens Organizing Committee said one third of tickets went unsold. Steven Redgrave, a rowing gold medalist at every Olympics from 1984 to 2000, said fear of terrorism may have kept some visitors away. Greece spent $1.5 billion on security that included a blimp, patriot missiles and use of 70,000 troops.
``You see the security, but it isn't overwhelming,'' said Mia Hamm, a member of the gold-medal U.S. women's soccer team. ``It didn't make you nervous.''
In the arenas, judges were harangued, particularly in gymnastics. A mistake by officials deprived a South Korean gymnast of a gold medal in the men's all-around event. Jeering spectators delayed one event for 10 minutes to protests marks. Equestrian and fencing also had judging disputes.
``Human errors happen,'' Rogge told reporters. ``We will talk with various federations to see how judging can be improved for future Games.''
Television ratings were 15 percent higher than for Sydney, Rogge said, adding that broadcasting executives were ``ecstatic.'' And the Greeks turned out to cheer on their heroes to six gold medals, their most since staging the first modern Olympics in 1896.
``Everything is extraordinary, much better than we were expecting,'' said Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former IOC president, four years after he warned that Greece might lose the Games because of the delays. ``This is a great success.''
By Grant Clark
Aug 30, 2004
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