US leads, but only just
The United States finished the Sydney Olympics on Sunday in their usual dominant position at the top of the medals table but their prestige was dented on the final day in the boxing and basketball.
The medals table at the end of 17 days showed the United States on top with 39 golds ahead of Russia with 32 and China with 28.
But the Americans failed to bring home an Olympic boxing gold medal for the first time since 1948, as their once fabled boxing tradition, stretching from Floyd Patterson to Muhammad Ali, was painfully undermined.
Their performance in the men's basketball, where the United States were runaway favourites, also appeared lacklustre.
They beat France 85-75 in the final but lost their aura of invincibility, and raised the prospect of an end to a decade of American dominance since NBA stars began competing in 1992.
They had never won by fewer than 22 points in Olympics matches since the Barcelona Games. But in Sydney their winning margin in four of their last five games was 15 points or less and they scraped to victory over Lithuania in the semifinal by only two points.
The United States, long dominant in the Olympics, came to Sydney with high hopes and several of them were dashed.
Sprint star Marion Jones fell short of her goal of an unprecedented five track and field gold medals, taking three gold and two bronze.
The Americans failed to break any records on the track despite the presence of the great Maurice Greene in the 100 metres and 4x100 metres relay, where he won two golds.
But if high American expectations were somewhat disappointed, the more modest aspirations of Britain received a boost on Sunday when Audley Harrison won the super-heavyweight boxing title to grab his country's 10th gold of the Games.
Harrison beat Kazakhstan's Mukhtarkhan Dildabekov convincingly to become the first British boxing gold medallist since middleweight Chris Finnegan in Mexico in 1968.
He was the first Briton to win in the maximum weight class since Ronald Rawson in 1920.
In the marathon, last event of the millennium Games, Gezahgne Abera cemented Ethiopian dominance of distance events with a classy victory in the difficult race over a hilly course that took in many of Sydney's famous landmarks including the Harbour Bridge.
Drugs, constantly threatening to spoil the show at the Millennium Games, also made an appearance on the final day with Olympic leaders announcing two new positive results in tests for steroids.
One of them was Armenian weightlifter Ashot Danielyan who was stripped of his bronze medal in the super-heavyweight division, the fourth lifter to forfeit a medal.
The other positive test was from Norwegian Fritz Aanes, who came fourth in the 85 kg Greco-Roman wrestling. He was disqualified.
The number of positive cases in competition tests at the Games stood at seven on Sunday. But there were still samples to be analysed from the last few days of the Olympics.
The United States, attacked by Olympic leaders earlier in the Games for allegedly hiding positive drug tests from its high-profile athletes, came under more fire on Sunday.
Olympics anti-doping chief Arne Ljungqvist said U.S. athletics officials handled two positive tests for the steroid nandrolone in the last two years but handed out no sanctions.
Ljungqvist, who is putting pressure on U.S Track and Field chiefs to explain 10 suspicious cases, said it was worrying that American authorities had taken the decisions to exonerate without informing world sports authorities.
Despite bright sunshine, the final day was marked by high winds which forced postponement of the canoe and kayak finals for six hours until the afternoon.
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