We cannot take a tailor's tape measure to these Olympics. We cannot fit the Games into a single tuxedo for this testimonial banquet—their dimensions are simply too disparate. From the Nigerian table-tennis competitor who was 17 centimeters tall to the Ugandan boxer who stood some 19 feet—why, you couldn't even settle on a single inseam.
The figures cited above were provided by IBM's cockamamie Olympic database. And while it is true that nothing lends itself to unalloyed, computer-nerd number crunching quite like the Games, we can only begin to digest the raw data now and to quantify all those who qualified. The most we can do is sweep the sands with a medal detector and suss out the superlatives, the sublime, the silly: the bests, the worsts, the lasts, the firsts.
And the trends. These were undoubtedly the most egalitarian Olympics ever. A record 52 nations won gold medals. Even if the former Soviet Union were extant—a Big Red Machine reassembled from rusted component parts (15 former Soviet countries attended the Games, 11 of them won events)—42 countries would have won medals, still the highest number in history. Meanwhile, back at the Samaranch, the international Olympic movement has never been larger: Never had so many athletes (10,750) from so many nations (197) participated in the Games.
The centennial of the modern Olympic Games was not simply an occasion to recall firsts but to create them. Leave it to Greece to gloriously combine the two in Atlanta and win its most medals (eight) since Athens first hosted the world in 1896.
For the first time in Olympic history, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Syria won gold medals. Hong Kong won its first and last gold medal; it will become part of China in 1997.
The second-place finish in the men's 100-meter sprint, by Frankie Fredericks of Namibia, was good enough to have won gold in every previous Olympics.
By anchoring the Jamaican team that finished third in the women's 4 X 100 relay, sprinter Merlene Ottey became the first woman to get five bronze medals (in four Olympics). If not for her silver medals in the 100 and 200 in Atlanta, she would have earned everlasting, RC Cola-caliber renown as a synonym for finishing third.
The fourth-place finisher in the men's 800, Norberto Tellez of Cuba, ran fast enough to have won every previous Olympic 800.
With her fifth gold medal, in the 4x200 relay, swimmer Jenny Thompson joined speed skater Bonnie Blair as the most gilded U.S. women Olympians ever.
Do You Believe in One Sixth of a Miracle?
The former Soviet Union (that is, the aforementioned countries that once helped make up the Evil Empire) outmedaled the U.S. 123-101. Likewise, the former East Germany outmedaled the former West Germany 33[5/6}—31[1/6] (teams in some events included athletes from both Germanys).