During this years Olympic Ceremonies the U.S. re-established traditional dominance in the medal count, however, many of the winners represent a changing youth movement.
Maurice Green and Marion Jones have been replaced by the likes of Justin Gatlin, Lauryn Williams and 18-year-old L.A. Baptist graduate Allyson Felix. Execution in the relays cost both the men and women teams more gold.
Among the competitors were two standout athletes from Riversides John W. North High School. Chaunte Howard (Georgia Tech) represented the U.S. in the high jump. Although she did not medal, look for her to qualify again in Beijing. Former J.W. North and UCLA All-American Joanna Hayes did take gold by winning the 100-meter hurdles in an impressive Olympic record of 12.37 seconds. Of the 103 total U.S. medals, a majority came from the track and the swimming pool.
Light Heavyweight Andre Ward salvaged the American Olympic boxing effort by beating a tough Russian opponent for the only gold medal the team would earn. The eight man team added a bronze by middleweight Andre Dirrell.
In a sport where the Europeans seem to exploit the scoring system to their best advantage, quality U.S. athletes have been turning pro at an increasingly younger age and thus, never compete on this world stage.
The United States and John Naismith get La Bronzed! Shaquille ONeil recently observed that when he played on dream teams, the Europeans asked for NBA autographs on the medal podium. We take our hats off to those young men who went, but with only about 30 days of practice in a team game, maybe its time we lower expectations.
The American women led by Chinos Diana Taurasi used fundamental teamwork to win their third straight gold medal. They beat rival Australia 74-63 in the final.
Dain Blanton, reigning American gold medalist from the Sydney games, left his heart in the sand, but was unable to motivate his partner Jeff Nygaard to advance his team past the elimination round.
The U.S. womens team of Misty May and Kerry Walsh, the most dominant team in the world, won the gold in a venue that became the most popular ticket at the Athens games.
Please dont tell Abner Double Day but our American men were eliminated from Olympic qualification by Mexico. The Cubans beat Australia to take gold. Thank goodness for the American women who simply squashed all comers en-route to USAs third consecutive Olympic gold medal in softball. The Americans outscored their opponents 51-1 and beat nemesis Australia 5-1 for the gold medal.
Former UCLA All-American Natasha Whatley was solid at shortstop and hit nearly .450. Lisa Fernandez, UCLA All-American was outstanding on the mound going undefeated to win her third gold.
A sport best described as gymnastics underwater ballet is usually dominated by the Europeans. The U.S. had never won a medal until Athens. Local Riverside Poly High School graduate Stephanie Nesbitt earned a bronze medal as a member of the eight girl team competition. The Russians and Chinese took the gold and silver. The U.S. also earned bronze in the pairs or duet discipline.
Historic Panthinaiko Stadium (1896) was the venue for the finish. The course followed hallowed ground covered by Phidippides, some 2700 years ago. Race leader Vandelei Lima of Brazil was shoved off the marathon course by a crazed race intruder at the 20 mile mark. Over the last two miles, Stephano Baldini of Italy took the lead and never looked back. African American Meb Keflezighi (San Diego) won the silver medal to put the United States back on the marathon radar. Lima took the bronze.
The authentic canvas of the Athenian games has attained her promise. An ultimate expression of sportsmanship and unity, the games of 2004 were a success. Athena will be watching as the eternal Olympic flame floats across the ocean to Beijing and the Peoples Republic of China.
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