The crowds cheered ecstatically, the athletes shed tears of joy by the bucketful and the media gushed superlatives but, as an ultimate sporting showpiece, the Sydney Olympics will go down as the almost-but-not-quite Games.
Despite the near-Herculean efforts of Marion Jones, 14 world records in the swimming pool and a raft of dazzling feats in Sydney's sumptuous stadiums, something was missing.
There were no world records in athletics, too many great champions flopped and too much distress was generated by the removal of a gold medal from waif-like 16-year-old Romanian gymnast Andreea Raducan for a trifling doping offence.
Above all, there was no colossus towering over the Games in the manner of those grand past Olympians Jesse Owens, Fanny Blankers-Koen, Mark Spitz or Carl Lewis.
Jones came agonisingly close, her quest for an unprecedented five track-and-field golds frustrated by the slimmest of margins -- first by the equivalent of the length of her big toe and then by no more than the blink of an eye.
Her victories in the 100 and 200 metres sprints were devastating and her third leg run in the U.S. women's 4X400 metres relay, not her specialist event, was awesome.
But she may be remembered less for her three gold medals than for her failure to get the five she was aiming for.
She ended with a mere bronze in the long jump, which she lost by just seven cms, as well as in the 4X100 metres relay, where a poor baton change left her too much to do as the Americans trailed the Bahamian winners home by 0.25 seconds.
No female track athlete has ever won five medals at the same Games before yet her reaction spelt out a lack of true elation.
"In a couple of days when I really have time to sit down, then maybe I will smile and think 'you know, not bad'," she said.
Not bad indeed, considering she was competing amid the turbulence created by the revelation in Sydney that her husband, world shot put champion C.J. Hunter, had tested positive for massive steroid doses four times this year.
Not bad too was Australian teenage prodigy Ian Thorpe, the 17-year-old with size 17 feet who collected three golds and two silvers in the pool, breaking three world records on the way.
But an ultra-patriotic home nation had thought him invincible and there was considerable wailing and gnashing of teeth at his defeat to Pieter van den Hoogenband in the 200 metres freestyle.
The Dutchman with the shy smile proved to be one of the stars of the pool with two golds and two world records and his compatriot Inge de Bruijn stole the show in the women's races with three individual golds and, naturally, three world records.
Despite the rash of swimming records -- 14 new marks and a 15th equalled -- Sydney failed to match the 1972 Munich Olympics where 26 world records fell and four were equalled.
Australia lost their much vaunted showdown with the American swimmers 14-5 on the gold medal count and turned their attention to the athletics track where single-lap runner Cathy Freeman carried the entire nation's hopes on her slim shoulders.
The Aboriginal athlete, who had lit the Olympic flame, donned a full bodysuit, shrugged off the crushing pressure and duly won gold, setting off a wave of Aussie fervour.
"The biggest smile I have seen was my brothers' and they weren't even drunk," she said in a disarmingly Australian way as she left the track.
The elegant Raducan, who had delighted the Superdome crowds with her nimbleness on vault, floor and bars, provided the controversy of the Games when she was stripped of her all-round gold medal for taking a stimulant.
She was the first gymnast to fail a dope test at an Olympics but her case attracted huge sympathy and triggered street protests in Romania when it was learned she had innocently taken an over-the-counter cold remedy given her by the team doctor.
The International Olympic Committee conceded Raducan had gained no competitive advantage but decided it had to apply its strict doping rules. Raducan's appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport was also turned down but she was left with the compensation of a team gold and a silver in the vault.
There was little compensation for the rivals of Maurice Greene and Michael Johnson, so dominant in the men's 100 and 400 metres the rest were left grasping for silver and bronze.
The flamboyant Greene picked up a second in the sprint relay and then got lashed by the U.S. media for over-indulgent celebrations on the podium during the national anthem.
Johnson, ending his Olympic career, bowed out with his second Sydney gold and the fifth of his career in the 4X400 relay.
Briton Steven Redgrave won a gold medal in rowing for the fifth successive Games, a record bettered by only one previous Olympian, Hungarian fencer Aladar Gerevich who won gold in six.
Invincible boxer Felix Savon duly won his third heavyweight gold in a row but Cubans did not fare as well as expected in the ring and President Fidel Castro denounced what he called "a disgusting mafia" among the judges.
There were some surprising other "flops". Russian wrestler Alexander Karelin, three times a gold medallist, was beaten for the first time in 13 years, losing 1-0 in the final to American Rulon Gardner. It was only the second point he had conceded in 10 years domination of his sport.
There was a sad end too to the Olympic career of celebrated Turkish weightlifter Naim Suleymanoglu, three times a gold medallist. The "Pocket Hercules" failed to lift his opening weight and left the stage.
"Goodbye, it's over," he said.
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