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Original Issue


Just before the fireworks began splintering the Atlanta sky,
just before Gloria Estefan belted out her Olympic tune and just
before the skateboarders took to the half-pipe on the stadium
floor, the U.S. women's basketball team was being draped in
gold. Hard to say who was giddier, the folks settling into their
seats for the closing ceremonies or these women doing cartwheels
across the Georgia Dome floor after beating Brazil.

The score was 111-87, so it wasn't a matter of drama or
surprise. They had won every game they played in this tournament
by at least 17 points. Yet there they were, doing victory laps,
dancing so happily that the piped-in Kool & the Gang hit
Celebration seemed almost fresh. The exuberance didn't quite fit
the blowout they had just won, but considering how high they had
just raised their sport, it wasn't inappropriate either.

Lingering skeptics were put on notice that women's basketball
was no longer--if it ever was--a girls' game. Lisa Leslie, a
silky 6'5", maneuvered easily beneath the basket. Dawn Staley,
on a fast break, back-bounced the ball to Katrina McClain for
an easy hoop. The women won their gold medal game by 24 points;
the U.S. men won by 26. The women didn't complain about room
service; the men did. The women were flamboyant but not
arrogant. They were easy to like.

Maybe the women worked harder, too. The men have their NBA
season, but whatever benefits that provides the Olympic program
is purely accidental. The women, however, spent 14 months
touring the world, playing 52 matches, generating $3 million
(how many Dream Teamers would that pay?) to promote their game.
Judging by the way they tore through the Olympics, it proved to
be time and money well spent.

It was interesting that theirs was the last medal decided in
these Games, an Olympics that celebrated the athleticism of
women more than any had before. It was a relief that the Games
ended with such a lively spin on sports, where people looked as
if they were actually at play, having fun, doing something they
wanted to do. It was, given everything else that happened in
Atlanta, encouraging.

A little later, at the stadium, after a strange pastiche of
theatrics, organizers extinguished the Olympic flame and allowed
the vast cauldron to cool. The torch had been passed to the
citizens of Sydney. Good luck to them, too.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Teresa Edwards (with ball) and her teammates won gold and new respect for women's basketball with a stylish defeat of Brazil. [Overhead view of Teresa Edwards with teammates playing against players from Brazil]

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN After 14 months and 52 games, a little more togetherness was tearfully sweet for Jennifer Azzi (left) and Leslie. [Jennifer Azzi and Lisa Leslie hugging]

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Josia Thugwane of South Africa beat South Korea's Lee Bong Ju by a scant three seconds, the closest finish in the history of the Olympic marathon. [Josia Thugwane and Lee Bong Ju running]

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKESThe Olympic flame was doused, but the Olympic spirit partied on as the athletes cut loose at the closing ceremonies. [Crowd in stadium]