US top Olympic medal table, crowds flock to close
LONDON, Aug 13 — The United States topped the sporting world with 46 Olympic gold medals to China’s 38 at the end of 16 days of thrilling action as the main stadium filled yesterday ahead of the closing ceremony.
Crowds performed “Mexican waves” around the 80,000-capacity arena as the sets for the final act of London 2012 were put in place — large reconstructions of some of the city’s most famous landmarks including Tower Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral.
The stadium has seen some of the most spectacular moments of the Games, including Jamaican sprint king Usain Bolt defending the 100, 200 and 4x100 metres titles he won in such spectacular fashion in Beijing, the relay in a world-beating time.
British supporters will also cherish memories of the venue, where Somali-born runner Mo Farah won the 5,000 and 10,000 double to deafening roars and was celebrated as a symbol of the capital’s multiculturalism.
The host nation won 29 golds to take third place in the rankings, its best result in 104 years, which helped lift the nation out of the gloom of an economic recession temporarily buried in the inside pages of the newspapers.
“I will say history has been written by many athletes,” International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge told reporters. “The Games were absolutely fabulous. London has absolutely refreshed the Games.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed, writing in a succinct message on Twitter: “Britain delivered. We showed the world what we’re made of.”
On the last day of sporting action, the US basketball team including the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant downed Spain in a repeat of the final in Beijing in 2008.
The score of 107-100 reflected a closely fought contest played at breakneck speed in which Durant led the scoring with 30 points.
Earlier yesterday, Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda broke away from two Kenyan rivals to win the men’s marathon near Buckingham Palace before vast crowds, reflecting local enthusiasm for the Games despite doubts about the cost and potential disruption.
After running side by side with world champion Abel Kirui and Wilson Kipsang, the 23-year-old put in a powerful kick to shake off the Kenyans 6 km from the end.
He crossed the finish line draped in the red, black and yellow Ugandan flag, which he knelt to kiss.
Also yesterday, Britain, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine picked up golds for boxing and Japan and the United States for wrestling.
The women’s modern pentathlon was the final medal to be decided, and Lithuanian Laura Asadauskaite beat Briton Sam Murray to the gold to round off London’s extravaganza of sport.
Many will remember London 2012 for the record-breaking exploits of American swimmer Michael Phelps, who took his life-time medal haul to 22 including 18 golds, making him the most decorated Olympian in history.
There was, of course, Bolt, the biggest name in athletics and a charismatic ambassador for sprinting.
After winning the 4x100 he went on to a London nightclub to delight dancing fans with a turn as a DJ, shouting out “I am a legend” to the packed dance floor.
Britons may recall Andy Murray demolishing world number one Roger Federer at Wimbledon to win the men’s singles tennis gold, while Jessica Ennis, the “poster girl” of the Games, won the women’s heptathlon on the first “super Saturday”.
Organisers delivered the home crowd one final cheer last night with the closing ceremony, a celebration of British pop music and culture that artistic director Kim Gavin described as “the disco at the end of the wedding”.
The Spice Girls, The Who and George Michael were among the big names who performed at a concert titled “A Symphony of British Music”, after which the Olympic Flame was extinguished and all eyes turned from London to 2016 hosts Rio de Janeiro.
Despite concerns about the creaky transport system and a shortfall of private security guards, which forced the government to call in thousands of extra troops to help screen visitors, the Games passed by fairly trouble-free.
A furore over empty seats at several Olympic venues blew over, especially once the track and field showcase kicked in and drew capacity crowds for virtually every session.
Even the weather improved as the Games wore on. Bright sunshine graced the closing weekend of a festival that has helped lift the gloom in recession-hit Britain.
For some, though, London left a bitter taste.
China bowed out of the Games with a swipe at the critics who had accused teenage swimming sensation Ye Shiwen of doping after her times rivalled the top US men.
Aged just 16, Ye set a world record, a Games record and won two gold medals in the women’s individual medleys, but her victories were overshadowed by questions and insinuations of cheating. There was no evidence that she had broken any rules.
The head of the Chinese delegation to London, Liu Peng, said the accusations were totally unfounded and stressed that China was strongly opposed to any doping “misbehaviour”.
“This is really unfair. This is groundless,” Liu said at a news conference yesterday. “There are individuals and media that are accusing, unfounded, our Chinese athletes. These people should respect sporting persons’ dignity and their reputation.” — Reuters