2004 - Athens

The critics are defied as the Olympics come home and Athens puts on spectacular Games

They said these Olympic Games would be a disaster but they were not. They said the transport system would crawl to an unmanageable halt and it did not. They said the stadium would not be built and yet they were spectacular. They highlighted security problems but there were few.

In the months leading up to the Games as they prepared to come home for the first time since 1896, the preparations of the Athens organisers had been so criticised there had even been suggestions they might be moved.

Therefore, expectations were low of Greece, the smallest country to host an Olympics in 52 years and one of the poorest countries in the European Union.

But upon arriving most people were in for a pleasant surprise. Under heavy criticism for years for being lax on terrorism, Greece had pledged to provide the best security possible to create a safe environment for the Games and had spent an incredible £500 million on keeping good their promise.

For the hosts, though, the Games were spoiled on the eve of the opening ceremony when Kostas Kederis, shock winner of the 200 metres in the 2000 Olympics, and his training partner Ekaterina Thanou, the 100m silver medallist in Sydney, were accused of deliberately avoiding drugs tests and withdrew.

Kederis had been due to light the torch at the opening ceremony and had to be hastily replaced by Nikolaos Kaklamanakis, a surfboarder.

"The organisation was outstanding and we had competitions in state-of-the-art venues," said Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee.

"These were the Games where it became increasingly difficult to cheat and where clean athletes were protected."

Before the Olympics opened, few would have predicted Britain's 34-year-old Kelly Holmes would turn out to be the star.

Injured on so many occasions at vital times during her career, everything finally came together when she won the 800m and 1500m, a double not achieved by a British athlete since Albert Hill in Antwerp 84 years earlier.

"All the ups and downs I've had, I think they've made me the athlete I am," said Holmes. "Everything I've ever dreamed of has come true."

Rower Matthew Pinsent - this time without the help of his former partner Steve Redgrave, who had finally retired after Sydney - won his fourth consecutive gold medal.

Their success capped a successful Olympics for Britain, who won 30 medals, including nine gold.

Another athlete to complete a double on the track was Hicham El Guerrouj, the Moroccan who had failed so spectacularly in the previous two Games. He finally succeeded by winning not only the 1500m but then also the 5000m, a double that matched the great Paavo Nurmi.

The United States once again finished top of the medals but, with Beijing on the horizon in 2008, it was perhaps a portent of what was to come that China finished second.

Date Games held: August 13-29

Number of nations represented: 301

Number of competitors: 11,099 (4,329 women)

Number of medal events: 301

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