Asia makes its presence felt
China dominated again as the sports power in Asia at the Sydney Olympics, but many of their neighbours also made their mark at the 2000 Games.
China walked away with 28 golds, a huge improvement from their 16 titles in Atlanta, and they overshadowed some of the performances by other Asian countries.
Overall, Asian countries won 43 golds, 39 silvers and 44 bronze medals in Sydney -- up from 31, 49 and 30 in Atlanta.
South Korea benefited from the introduction of their national sport taekwondo as an Olympic event to improve to eight golds, nine silver and 11 bronze. In Atlanta they finished 7-15-5.
Three of the golds and one silver came from taekwondo, a sport which all Korean schoolchildren are taught and in which masters of the ancient martial art are revered like gods.
Korea also excelled in archery, winning three golds.
Japan won five golds and 18 medals overall, better than Atlanta, where they took three golds and 14 overall.
While they would have liked more success, there is no question that the gold which satisfied Japan most was the women's marathon title won by national hero Naoko Takahashi.
The 28-year-old scored in an Olympic best time of two hours 23 minutes 14 seconds to delight millions back in Japan who got out of bed early to watch Takahashi's run on television.
"It is beyond my own imagination. I can't really say what is going to happen," Takahashi said about the reception she will receive in marathon-mad Japan.
Ryoko Tamura started the Sydney Olympics on a great note for Japan by winning the women's 48 kg judo title on the first day of competition after finishing second in the last two Games.
That paved the way for three other judo golds, as well as two silver and two bronzes.
"We can give ourselves a passing mark of 80 percent, not 100 percent because we missed some golds," said Japan Olympic Committee President Yushiro Yagi, who had hoped for more in judo and swimming, where Japan's women took two silver and two bronze.
Japan suffered disappointment in baseball, where they lost a battle for the bronze to bitter rivals South Korea, and in softball where the United States took the gold in extra innings.
While China took four of the five badminton titles, Indonesians Tony Gunawan and Candra Wijaya managed to grab the men's doubles.
Indonesia also took three silver and two badminton bronze. Four years ago, the Indonesians won one gold, one silver and two bronze.
Thailand exploded in celebrations for the second successive Olympics after Wijan Ponlid slugged his way to a gold on the final day of the Games.
Ponlid's win over Kazakhstan's world flyweight champion Bulat Jumadilovto was only the second Olympic gold Thailand have ever won. Somluck Kamsing, now a national hero, gave his country their first Olympic gold in 1996 but was beaten in the quarter-finals in Sydney.
Ponlid held up a framed photograph of his country's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej before screaming fans after his win.
"It was not difficult today. I won because of the support of the King of Thailand and the Thai people," Ponlid said.
Vietnam also had a new hero in Tran Hieu Ngan, who snatched her country's first Olympic medal by reaching the final of the taekwondo women's 57 kg class, where she lost to South Korea's Jung Jae-eun.
Sri Lankan runner Susanthika Jayasinghe gave her war-torn country cause to celebrate with Sri Lanka's first medal in 52 years.
Fireworks exploded in Colombo after Jayasinghe raced to the bronze in the women's 200 metres, adding to Duncan White's silver in the 400 metres hurdles in London in 1948.
Taiwan arrived in Sydney expecting to finally win their first Olympic gold, possibly in women's weightlifting or taekwondo, but were embarrassed when three of their weightlifters tested positive for drugs.
They won one silver and four bronze but will have to wait until Athens to try again for gold. Hong Kong had hoped for a gold medal repeat from windsurfing queen, Lee Lai-shan, but she never recovered from a poor start and finished out of the medals. Her Atlanta gold remains the only Olympic medal Hong Kong have ever won.
India's hopes of a tennis or, more important, a hockey medal floundered, but they did pick up a bronze in a historic performance in weightlifting by Karnam Malleswari, the first Olympic medal ever won by an Indian woman.
Doubles tennis champions Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi were knocked off in the second round by hometown favourites Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge, and the hockey team, winners of eight Olympic golds, failed to reach the medal round and finished seventh.
To make matters worse, rival Pakistan made the hockey semifinals, although they ended up finishing fourth.
While tiny Singapore were not able to add to the silver medal they won as far back as 1960 in Rome, they came out of the Games feeling good.
Former Chinese national Jing Jun Hong was a surprise semifinalist in the table tennis, and raised hopes in her adopted homeland Singapore of a medal.
She just missed out, but the mood was upbeat.
"Coming fourth for Singapore was good," deputy chef de mission Eric Song said. "To fight for a medal after such a long time was something great for us."
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