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Athens bids farewell to the Games

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• Olympics 2004: Special report 

ATHENS, Greece -- The Athens Games came to a close, as they started, with a spectacular ceremony in front of a crowd of 75,000 at the Olympic Stadium.

The arena, which has been the main venue for the sporting carnival for the past two weeks, was transformed into a huge Wheatfield amid traditional Greek music and dancing.

A full moon shone over the city as fireworks lit up the sky above the stadium.

"I declare the Games of the 28th Olympiad closed and, in accordance with tradition, I call upon the youth of the world to assemble four years from now at Beijing to celebrate with us there the Games of the 29th Olympiad," said International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge.

In the final medal ceremony, Stefano Baldini of Italy collected his gold medal after winning an incident-packed men's marathon.

Bronze medalist Vanderlei de Lima of Brazil was also presented with a sportsmanship medal after he was pushed off the road by a spectator while leading the event. (Full Story)

More than 10,000 athletes from all 202 participating countries entered the stadium to music specially commissioned from Greek composers Nikos Touliatos and Nikko Patrelakis.

Rogge and Athens 2004 Olympic Committee Chief Gianna Angelopoulou-Daskalaki made speeches to close the Games before the Olympic flag was lowered and handed to Wang Qishan, the mayor of Beijing which hosts the Games in 2008, and the Olympic cauldron was extinguished.

Despite pre-event concerns about security and Athens' state of readiness and the early controversy surrounding Greek star sprinter Kostas Kenteris, who was forced to withdraw after failing to attend a drugs test, the Games have largely passed without any serious problems.

"You have won," Rogge said. "You have won by brilliantly meeting the tough challenge of holding the Games. These were unforgettable, dream Games.

"These Games were held in peace and brotherhood. These were the Games where it became increasingly difficult to cheat (with drugs) and where clean athletes were better protected."

More than 20 athletes were banned from the Games as part of Rogge's "zero tolerance" policy on failed and missed drugs tests.

On Sunday men's hammer winner Adrian Annus of Hungary became the third champion at Athens to be stripped of his medal after failing to take a second drugs test demanded by the IOC. (Full Story)

Rogge also praised security arrangements for the Games -- an operation featuring 70,000 police and soldiers and costing $1.5 billion -- as "flawless" and noted that ticket sales, despite criticism of empty seats at some venues, were better than at recent Games in Seoul and Barcelona.

"The Olympics came home and we've shown the world the great things Greeks can do," added Angelopoulos-Daskalaki.

"Athens was great for the athletes, Greece was great for the Games."

The United States topped the final medals table with 35 golds, but China will take heart as it prepares for 2008 after finishing second just three golds behind.

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