The most successful athlete of the Games was American swimmer Michael Phelps, who won six gold and two bronze medals. In the 200m freestyle, the most hyped event of the Games, he was beaten by Australia’s Ian Thorpe. Phelps won the bronze medal, with Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband, who successfully defended his 100m freestyle title at the Games, winning silver. The other real stars of the pool were Australian. Grant Hackett produced a swim for the ages in bravely winning his second 1500m freestyle gold medal. The women’s relay teams, led by 100m freestyle champion Jodie Henry and 100m butterfly champion Petria Thomas, stunned the world, especially the formidable US teams, in winning the 4x100 freestyle and 4x100m medley relay golds.
German kayaker Birgit Fischer became the first athlete in any sport to win two medals in each of five different Olympics. In the main stadium, Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj, regarded by many as the greatest miler the world has seen, won both the 1500m and the 5000m, ending his long quest for Olympic glory. In women’s events, Great Britain’s Kelly Holmes triumphed in both the 800m and 1500m.
Argentina achieved a rare double in men’s team sports, winning the football tournament without giving up a goal, and beating the vaunted US team on their way to a gold medal in basketball. It was the nation’s first basketball gold, a win engineered by Argentina’s own NBA star, Manu Ginobili. In women’s handball, Denmark won a record third consecutive gold medal, defeating Korea in a sensational final that was decided on penalty throws.
Yet it was the marathon, the most storied event of the Olympics, which best linked the present and the past of Olympic competition. The course followed its historic route, ending in Panathinaiko Stadium, the 2300-year-old stadium which was used as the main venue in 1896. Panathinaiko had earlier staged all four archery events, with Korea winning three of the four gold medals. The marathon winners, Mizuki Noguchi of Japan and Stefano Baldini of Italy, were cheered by tens of thousands of people seated in the marble stands. Another classical highlight was the men’s and women’s shotput events, which were held outside Athens in Olympia.
These ancient venues, coupled with the state-of-the-art constructions such as the Olympic velodrome and Olympic Stadium, presented a sparkling image of both the revered ancient and dynamic new aspects of Greek culture and tradition. The spirit of the Greek people added an extra element to the mix to make these Games a truly special occasion.