A Dramatic Final Day at the Centennial Olympics
ATLANTA (AP) _ The longest, largest and most expensive Olympic Games in history are over.
After a closing day of competition that featured memorable gold medal victories by American boxer David Reid, South African marathoner Josia Thugwane and the U.S. women’s basketball team, the Centennial Games ended Sunday night with a farewell festival of music and dance.
Before the torch was passed to Sydney, site of the next Summer Games in 2000, there were a few final moments to remember in Atlanta.
America’s female Dream Team capped a remarkable run by beating Brazil 111-87 for the last gold medal of the games.
Lisa Leslie scored 29 points for the U.S. team, which swept through eight Olympic opponents to complete its year-long quest with an amazing 60-0 record.
``It’s the best game I’ve ever played, the best moment of my life,″ Leslie said. ``We’re No. 1.″
Reid, the only American boxer to fight for gold, was getting pounded by Alfredo Duvergel before landing a devastating right to the Cuban’s head early in the third round of their 156-pound bout.
Duvergel, who held a seemingly insurmountable 16-6 lead at the time, got up before the count of 10 but was so groggy that the referee stopped the fight.
``I was going for the home run because I was down 10 points and it’s hard to make up 10 points in the last round,″ Reid said. ``I knew he was beating me. I just wanted to hurt him.″
The punch prevented what would have been an embarrassment for U.S. boxers _ the first gold medal shutout in a non-boycotted Olympics since 1948. It also gave the United States six boxing medals, twice the total in Barcelona four years ago.
Thugwane, a janitor who had no chance of competing before the fall of apartheid, became the first black South African to win a gold medal by capturing the closest marathon in Olympic history. The victory by the tiny 25-year-old set off a wild celebration at the coal mine where he works.
``What the medal means to me is that our problems are over in our country,″ said Thugwane, who dedicated his victory to South African president Nelson Mandela. ``We are free to run and be part of the international community. We are back in the fold.″
The 5-foot-2, 99-pound runner edged South Korea’s Lee Bong-ju by three seconds in the 26.2-mile race, which started at 7 a.m. to avoid Atlanta’s oppressive afternoon heat and humidity. The Olympic Stadium, packed with more than 80,000 fans throughout the games, was almost empty as Thugwane entered for his final lap.
But the stadium was filled again at night for the closing ceremony, which was climaxed by a ``Southern Jamboree″ jam session featuring Little Richard, B.B. King, Wynton Marsalis and Al Green.
It was a festive ending to a bittersweet Olympics, one that included the thrill of world-class athletic competition and the tragedy of the park bombing that killed one woman and injured more than 100 people.
There were computer foul-ups and transportation troubles, but there also were the poignant appearances by Muhammad Ali, who steadied one of his trembling hands long enough to light the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony, then brought down the house at the Georgia Dome when he received a replacement for his lost 1960 gold medal at halftime of the Dream Team’s gold medal victory over Yugoslavia.
Other lasting memories:
_ Injured gymnast Kerri Strug being carried to the medal stand by coach Bela Karolyi after her courageous vault helped the U.S. women win the team gold.
_ Michael Johnson, wearing gold shoes, blazing to a world record in the 200 meters to complete the first 200-400 Olympic double by a man.
_ Carl Lewis qualifying for the long jump final on his last jump, then winning the event for a fourth straight time and tying the record for career Olympic medals with nine. But some of Lewis’ luster was dimmed when he unsuccessfully tried to force himself on the U.S. 400-meter relay team, which ended up losing to Canada in a shocking upset.
_ Amy Van Dyken, an asthmatic swimmer who was ridiculed by her high school teammates, becoming the first U.S. woman to win four golds in one Olympics.
_ The U.S. women’s softball and soccer teams winning the first Olympic gold medals ever awarded in their sports.
The United States used its home-field advantage to top the medal charts in a boycott-free Olympics for the first time since 1968. Americans won 101 medals (44 golds, 32 silvers, 25 bronze), followed by Germany’s 65 (20-18-27), Russia’s 63 (26-21-16) and China’s 50 (16-22-12).