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Men : Breakthrough tournament brings new gold owners

ATHENS, 28 August - The Olympics Men's Basketball tournament at Athens 2004 will go down as perhaps the most exciting international tournament ever held, and certainly the least predictable.

A first time gold medallist, Argentina, came out on top after two weeks during which the most successful countries in basketball history struggled more than ever before.

The owners of the previous three gold medals, the United States, went down against Argentina in the semifinals and suffered three defeats altogether in Athens after having amassed a 109-2 record between 1936 and 2000. USA salvaged bronze in the end to preserve a streak of 15 medals in as many Olympics appearances.

The world champions from 1998 and 2002, Serbia and Montenegro, didn't even reach the quarterfinals, finishing 11th out of 12 teams.

But Argentina was hardly a surprise. It had finished second at the most recent World Championships in Indianapolis, United States, losing the final game in overtime.

This time, however, Argentina overcame injury to starter Fabricio OBERTO, who suffered a broken hand late in the semifinal victory, to win without him, 84-69 over Italy in the final.

Argentina boasts a worldwide crossover artist for a global game - Emanuel GINOBILI - who now counts an Olympic title to go along with professional ones in Europe and the United States.

GINOBILI, the tournament's fourth best scorer with 19.3 points per game, had the highest two-point shooting accuracy (70.8 per cent) of anyone and ranked seventh in both average assists and steals.

On an Argentine roster replete with players who are professionals in Europe, forward Luis SCOLA led his team with 25 points in the final and averaged 17.6 for the tournament.

For the first time in Olympic history, there were multiple gold medal candidates in Athens.

Historic favorite USA faltered with two preliminary round losses, but rallied to stop another hopeful, previously undefeated Spain, in the quarterfinals. Lithuania had made it through the quarters undefeated in six games, but ran hard into Italy, another would-be winner, in the semis.

But that wasn't all. Host Greece, the victim of Argentina in the quarters, matched its best Olympics finish, fifth. Puerto Rico, which ended sixth, lit the fuse on a spectacular show by doling USA its first loss after a 24-0 record with professional players, by 19 points in their opening game. And China rallied into the quarterfinals with a last minute win over Serbia and Montenegro.

Among the individual highlights was a miraculous game-winning shot by GINOBILI, also on the first day, which started Serbia and Montenegro on the road to its worst World Championships or Olympics result in more than half a century. There was also the 10 points scored in 69 seconds by Sarunas JASIKEVICIUS that sent USA to its second preliminary round defeat against Lithuania, who stunned spectators and opponents alike with daring three-point shooting throughout the tournament.

The individual leaders included top scorer Pau GASOL of Spain, whose 37 points won his team seventh place in the classification game. GASOL averaged 22.4 points over seven games.

YAO Ming of China was the top rebounder, with an average of 9.3 per game, and third-best scorer, at 20.7 points per game.

JASIKEVICIUS led all passers with 5.6 assists per game.

But the last tango in Athens went to Argentina, which will only increase the expectation for the next Olympics tournament.

Sport Review
Women : USA reasserts dominance of major powers

ATHENS, August 28 - Unlike on the men's side, the traditional powers in Olympic Women's Basketball reaffirmed their lofty status in Athens, where the United States repeated as champion, Australia repeated its silver medal and Russia took away the bronze medal from Brazil in their third-place game.

USA won its third straight gold and fifth in seven Olympic appearances since Women's Basketball made its debut in Montreal 1976. USA has never played in an Olympics without earning a medal. It won silver in Montreal 1976 and bronze in Barcelona 1992. USA did not participate in Moscow 1980.

To say that the favorites made it easily to the final game is a little misleading, because Russia showed it can challenge even USA, losing by just four points in their semifinal.

It remains true, however, that four countries - USA, Australia, Russia and Brazil - share 11 of the 12 medals awarded in women's basketball between Barcelona and Athens.

Not only has the USA team dominated since Atlanta 1996 - extending its unbeaten streak in the Olympics to 25 games in Athens - but with the USA victory over Australia by 74-63 on Saturday at Olympic Indoor Arena, three collected their third consecutive gold medals.

Lisa LESLIE, Dawn STALEY and Sheryl SWOOPES all made major contributions to become the only players in women's basketball besides their former teammate, Teresa EDWARDS, to surpass two gold medals. EDWARDS has four. STALEY, who was also the USA flagbearer at the opening ceremonies in Athens, announced her retirement from the national team after Saturday's victory.

LESLIE led the champions with 15.3 points per game, while Tina THOMPSON followed her with 14.1 on average.

Defense was the key in the final, however, as USA stopped the tournament's top scorer with 22.9 points per game, Lauren JACKSON of Australia. Mfon UDOKA of Nigeria, which finished 11th, was the tournament's second best scorer, averaging 21.7 points.

Russia made good on its resurgence, which included a five-point loss to USA in the last World Championships final, by winning bronze, its first medal since gold as the Unified Team in 1992.

With its 71-62 victory over Brazil for bronze, Russia ended Brazil's streak of medals at two, silver in Atlanta 1996 and bronze at Sydney 2004. The Brazilians had begun the tournament by setting an Olympic record in scoring with 128 points against Japan, and tying the best winning margin ever, 66 points, in the same game.

Otherwise, the Women's Basketball tournament offered some interesting sidelights:

Czech Republic finished fifth in its first Olympics despite not having the best player from its 2003 European Championships second-place team. Spain, also playing in the first Olympics it had qualified for, took sixth place. Another Olympic newcomer, host Greece, battled all the way to seventh place, while New Zealand posted its best finish by far, eighth.

Olympic News Service