- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2004

ATHENS — The Athens Games ended last night amid fanfare and fireworks, capped by a throwback marathon, which had a slight scare, a festive closing ceremony and no serious incidents.

“You have won,” International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge told the 70,000 in attendance at Olympic Stadium, who responded with a roar. “You have won by brilliantly meeting the tough challenge of holding the games.

“These were unforgettable, dream games.”

After several hours at Olympic Stadium that featured spectacular lighting and an extravaganza of folk dancing and music, the Olympic torch was extinguished, and Mr. Rogge officially closed the games, inviting the world to reconvene at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

China, third in the medals race, previewed its own welcome of the next games with a group of children performing with the Beijing Opera. A young girl, standing by a huge red lantern-shaped stage, held a small lantern and sang “Jasmine.”

The cauldron of the Olympic flame was slowly lowered, symbolically lighting the torches to be carried around the world to the next Summer Games. And at 10:48 p.m. local time, Athens’ flame was extinguished, singers took the stage, and volleys of fireworks again lit up the sky.

The United States’ highlight during the closing ceremony was three-time Olympian and women’s soccer gold medalist Mia Hamm carrying the American flag into the stadium, becoming the first soccer player to do so.

Earlier in the day, Italy’s Stefano Baldini won the Olympic marathon, held on the 26.2-mile route used for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. American Meb Keflezighi won silver, the first U.S. medal in the event in 28 years.

According to legend, the event was born in the fifth century B.C., when a herald named Pheidippides ran from the village of Marathon to Athens to announce a Greek victory over invading Persians.

No one knows whether Pheidippides encountered the kind of resistance on the course that bronze medalist Vanderlei de Lima of Brazil did yesterday.

De Lima led the marathon by a minute with three miles to go when a defrocked Irish priest, who has disrupted sporting events in the past, bolted from the crowd, grabbed de Lima and pushed him into the crowd.

Cornelius Horan, 57, wore a green beret, a red kilt and knee-high green socks and a sign on his back that read: “The Grand Prix Priest Israel Fulfillment of Prophecy Says the Bible.” De Lima was taken by surprise and lost 10 to 15 seconds, but he recovered and finished. However, he was passed by two runners about a mile after the incident.

“I was scared because I didn’t know what could happen to me, whether he was armed with a knife, a revolver or something and whether he was going to kill me,” de Lima said. “I don’t know if I would have won, but things would have been different. After that, it was hard to get my rhythm back. It really distracted me.”

The Brazilian track federation protested the result and sought a duplicate gold medal for de Lima, but the jurors simply expressed sympathy and said they couldn’t change the result. Brazil said it would appeal to sports’ international arbitration panel.

Like de Lima, Athens can breathe a well-deserved sigh of relief: Despite pre-Olympic concerns about security and readiness, the games went off with few hitches.

A record $1.5 billion security effort protected the first Summer Olympics since September 11 and the bombings in Madrid, while the oft-delayed stadiums and arenas were completed in a fit of last-minute work.

As was the case in the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, doping scandals, judging controversies and politics overshadowed much of the athletic competition. Greek sprint stars Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou reportedly attempted to avoid a drug test on the eve of the Olympics by staging a motorcycle accident, then pulled out of the games.

Nineteen athletes failed drug tests, including Russian shot putter Irina Korzhanenko, who was stripped of the first gold medal won by a woman at ancient Olympia.

“We have had more positive cases because we have had more doping controls at these games,” said Lamine Diack, president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, track and field’s international governing body.

In gymnastics, Korea’s Yang Tae-young was incorrectly docked a tenth of a point in the men’s all-around competition, costing him a gold medal that went to American Paul Hamm. The International Gymnastics Federation suspended three judges and asked Hamm to give back his gold. The U.S. Olympic Committee intervened, refusing on Hamm’s behalf.

President Bush’s re-election campaign ran ads featuring the Iraqi soccer team, which became the feel-good story of the games when it advanced to the semifinals. Iraqi players showed little gratitude, however, criticizing the president and the United States’ presence in Iraq.

The United States won 103 total medals, surpassing its 97-medal haul in Sydney and a 100-medal goal set by the USOC. Highlights included dominating performances from the women’s softball and basketball squads and a new generation of young sprint stars, such as 100-meter dash winner Justin Gatlin.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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