It was the 12th gold medal in 14 Olympic basketball competitions for the United States, but this one will be remembered as the Olympics when the rest of the world caught up.
The final victory margin of 10 points was the lowest ever for the United States in a gold-medal victory. It was the fifth time in these Olympics that the Americans won by 15 or fewer points, quite a difference from 1996 and 1992 when the U.S. teams won every game by at least 22 points and often had victory margins of 40 points or more.
"What this Olympics demonstrated is that the competitive level of international basketball has improved ... more so than casual observers of the game understood," NBA commissioner David Stern said.
Emily deRiel of Haverford, Pa., stunned even herself by winning the silver medal in the first Olympic women's modern pentathlon. "I don't know how it happened. I really don't," said deRiel, who started competing at the international level only this year.
There were a few down notes: The U.S. boxers and freestyle wrestlers found themselves shut out of Olympic gold for the first time in decades, and the struggling U.S. men's water polo team lost to Italy to finish sixth in the tournament.
U.S. boxer Ricardo Juarez lost Sunday (Saturday night EDT) to 125-pounder Bekzat Sattarkhanov of Kazakstan, 22-14, giving him a silver medal and leaving the American team with one last shot at winning its only gold in Australia.
Ricardo Williams wasn't up to the task. He was defeated 27-20 by Mahamadkadyz Abdullaev of Uzbekistan in his gold medal bout at 139 pounds.
In each of the past two Olympics, U.S. boxers had won just a single gold medal. In Australia, they failed to reach even that modest total.
Gezahgne Abera of Ethiopia won the Sydney Olympics' final event - the 26.2-mile marathon - striding into the stadium just a few hours before it was taken over by the robots on stilts, the Frankenstein kangaroo and the giant shrimp on bicycles that helped Sydney cap its games.
The United States led the way in the final medal tally, collecting 97 (39 gold, 25 silver and 33 bronze). Russia was second with 88 (32, 28 and 28), and China third with 59 (28, 16, 15). Australia was fourth, with 58.
Greco-Roman gold medalist Rulon Gardner, who ended the 13-year undefeated streak of Russian super heavyweight Alexander Karelin, carried the U.S. flag during the closing ceremony.
- WRESTLING: Disaster struck quickly with four straight losses Sunday (Saturday night EDT), dashing any hopes of a U.S. gold.
Ex-Iowa wrestlers Terry Brands and Lincoln McIlravy lost close semifinal matches; Brands won later to take the bronze. Kerry McCoy and Chales Burton lost tight quarterfinal matches and were shut out of the medals.
On Saturday, U.S. wrestlers Brandon Slay and Sammie Henson had won silver after tough defeats in the finals.
- DRUGS: The last day of the Sydney Olympics started with an all-too-familiar refrain: three Olympians, one a bronze medalist, busted for steroids.
Armenian lifter Ashot Danielyan was stripped of his medal after a positive test for the steroid nandrolone, becoming the fourth weightlifter to test positive in the Summer Games.
Greco-Roman wrestler Fritz Aanes of Norway also tested positive for nandrolone after losing a bronze-medal match Wednesday, IOC medical commission chairman Prince Alexander de Merode said Sunday (Saturday night EDT).
De Merode also formally announced that Russian 400-meter runner Svetlana Pospelova tested positive the steroid stanozolol in an out-of-competition test at the games.
Eight athletes tested positive in Sydney since the games began Sept. 16, with more than 50 others caught in pre-games tests around the world. And that figure doesn't include allegations that U.S. officials ignored positive tests for up to 15 of its athletes, or the charge that Marion Jones' husband, C.J. Hunter, tested positive for nandrolone.
The eight drug positives are quadruple the two recorded at the Atlanta Games in 1996 and the most at a Summer Games since 10 in Seoul in 1988.
- MEN'S BASKETBALL: After barely losing to the U.S. team, Lithuania won the bronze medal by beating host Australia 89-71 on Sunday (Saturday night EDT).
It was the third consecutive Olympic bronze for the Lithuanians. Australian star Andrew Gaze, a five-time Olympian, ended his career with no medals.
Gaze, a starter on Seton Hall's 1989 Final Four team, scored 22 points. He was the tournament's leading scorer with an average of 19.8.
- TRACK: Michael Johnson and Marion Jones wrapped up their Olympics the same way they started them: in spectacular sprints to gold-medal finishes.
For the U.S. track team, it started and finished with Jones, who thrived in the Sydney spotlight. She leaves Australia with three golds and two bronzes falling short of her goal of five golds but still becoming the first woman to win five medals in a single Olympics.
She also became the first woman since Florence Griffith Joyner in 1988 to win three track golds in one games. And she did most of it while shrugging off allegations that her husband, shot putter C.J. Hunter, had used steroids.
Jones won the 100- and 200-meter sprints, took a bronze in the long jump and a bronze in the 400-meter relay, then closed out Saturday with a gold in the 1,600 relay.
Johnson, in his farewell Olympic appearance, anchored the men's 1,600 relay team to capture his fifth gold medal over three Summer Games. Across an amazing career, Johnson has won nothing but gold five Olympic and nine world championshi medals.
He earlier won the 400 in Sydney.
Led by 100-meter champion Maurice Greene on the anchor leg, the Americans won the 400-meter relay but the four-man team drew more attention with their-post race antics, an assortment of WWF-style poses and muscle-flexing.
In the 1,500 meters, Suzy Favor Hamilton's bid to become the first American medalist in the event ended when she collapsed about 75 meters from the finish line and finished last. Suffering from dehydration, she was taken off the track in a wheelchair.
- WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Talk about winning on the road.
The U.S. hoopsters faced host Australia before a rabid crowd eager to see the gold medal come home and sent the locals home disappointed. The Americans, winners of the Atlanta Games, took their second straight gold with a 76-54 thrashing of Australia.
"We played hard, we played great," U.S. center Lisa Leslie said. "We knew we could do it, but it's still an amazing feeling to do it on someone else's homecourt."
The Americans won with rebounding and defense, holding Australia to 31 percent shooting while winning the battle of the boards 48-27. Leslie and Natalie Williams led the Americans with 15 points each, while Yolanda Griffith added 13 points and 12 rebounds.
The U.S. women led by 13 at halftime, and quickly answered Australia's one second-half run to put the game away. The U.S. team has now won the last two Olympics and the 1998 world championships.
Australia's silver medal marked the nation's highest finish ever in women's basketball.