An Associated Press poll decides that the sporting year belonged to the Greeks
London.- Greece was the big winner in international sports in 2004 with two great triumphs that few really expected. Greece’s stunning run to the European soccer championship and the overwhelming success of the Athens Olympics finished 1-2 in an Associated Press poll of the top sports stories of the year.
Lance Armstrong’s sixth straight victory in the Tour de France was third in the survey of more than 70 AP subscriber sports editors and broadcasters around the world.
Greece had never won a single game in a major soccer championship and was a 100-1 shot going into the Euro 2004 tournament in July.
Yet the Greeks, coached by 65-year-old German Otto Rehhagel, managed to win the most improbable of titles upsetting France in the opening game and beating hosts Portugal in the final.
Greece was still celebrating when, a month later, the Athens Olympics started on time and with everything in place. After years of concerns over construction delays, cost overruns and terrorist threats, the Summer Games went off without a hitch.
At the closing ceremony, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge thanked Greece for putting on “unforgettable, dream games”. The success of the Athens Olympics attracted the most first-place votes 21 but still finished a distant second with a total of 310 points.
The race for third place was extremely close with Armstrong edging Michael Schumacher’s record 13 Formula One Grand Prix victories by 259 to 257.
The record 24 doping cases that rocked the Athens Olympics came fifth with 189 points and six first-place votes.
The biggest scandal involved Greek sprinters Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, who missed drug tests on the eve of the games and claimed they were injured in a motorcycle crash. They eventually pulled out of the games. On Wednesday the pair were provisionally suspended.
The Athens Games also produced the sixth-place story US swimmer Michael Phelps’ haul of eight medals, including six gold, polled 185 points. Just behind Phelps in the poll was the Russian revolution in women’s tennis, a story which gained 181 points.
Anastasia Myskina became the first Russian woman to win a Grand Slam, beating Elena Dementieva in the French Open final. Then 17-year-old Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon. Svetlana Kuznetsova then beat Dementieva for the US Open title. The Russians won the Fed Cup for the first time. Sapa-AP.