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Athens Wins a Laurel

By Zeus, Greece did it! With the Olympic flame now snuffed out after burning brightly for two weeks, the 28th Summer Games should be remembered for those amazing Greeks who pulled together at the last minute to finish the sports venue, spiff up their capital, and genially host a multitude of visitors.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge heaped praise on Greece's Olympic organizers, terming the Games "splendid."

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That victory, however, wasn't cheap. Unlike most previous host nations, Greece is a small country of modest wealth. It spent $8.5 billion to get everything ready, including $1.5 billion on unprecedented security. (Athletes were outnumbered by guards 7 to 1.) The government now must pay some hefty bills.

Still, holding the Games in the land where they originated (and were revived in 1896) added to the drama as highly skilled athletes competed with patriotic pride. These Games were watched by 15 percent more global viewers than those in Sydney four years ago.

The Olympics weren't without controversy, such as the judging snafu in men's gymnastics that gave the gold to US gymnast Paul Hamm. And too many athletes were caught up with performance-enhancing drugs. In fact, 24 athletes were caught for drug violations in Athens. That figure nearly doubles the previous record for athletes cited for drugs at the 1984 Games. It's enough to make enforcement a top priority at the next Games.

These Olympics also should be remembered for the remarkable ascendency of the Chinese to third place in the overall global medal count, behind the US and Russia. All told, athletes from Asia increased their gold medal count by 50 percent since 2000, an astonishing achievement.

That clearly puts China in a winning position as it prepares to host the Games in 2008. May it, too, like Greece, use the Olympics to help bring forward its full potential.