Argentina end the American dream on the basketball court
The USA had won the basketball gold medal at the previous three editions of the Olympic Games and many believed a fourth consecutive gold was a foregone conclusion.
However, the American team that was selected for Athens was not as strong as it had been at previous Games. Despite the presence of star names such as LeBron James, the team overall was younger and less experienced than expected. Nevertheless, the USA had won 109 of its previous 111 games at the Olympic Games, with only two defeats since 1936, both of which had come at the hands of the Soviet Union. On the other hand, they had lost not once, not twice, but three times at the 2002 World Championships. To underline their new frailty, on the eve of the Games, the Americans were beaten by Italy in a practice game. Still fans expected them to improve once the competition began.
Any complacency was utterly destroyed in their first match. Puerto Rico, considered no-hopers in the competition, beat the USA 92-73 in a stunning upset. It was now clear that the Americans had not been taking it easy in the run-up to the Olympics – they simply weren't playing anywhere near their previous best.
The Americans recovered slightly in their next match, beating hosts Greece 77-71, which they followed up with a ten-point victory over Australia. But then came a head-to-head with Lithuania, who had come close to beating the USA four years earlier. It was hardly a major surprise when the Europeans, handed the Americans their second defeat of the tournament.
Somehow, they survived the group stage and then beat Spain in a quarter-final that suggested they might finally be gelling. The semi-final, though, pitched them against Argentina, the team who inflicted the USA's opening defeat at the World Championships 2002.
While the Americans showed distinct signs of continued improvement, they were up against a classy opponent who sensed the chance for another memorable coup. The South Americans led by five points at half-time, and widened that lead to 13 points by the end of the third quarter. The Americans closed the gap slightly but the match ended 89-81 to Argentina and the era of American dominance on the Olympic stage was over.
The final pitched the jubilant Argentines against Italy. It was a tight match, in which Argentina took an early lead, before Italy fought back to draw level, with the two teams trading points thereafter. In the closing minutes, two three-pointers from Alejandro Monteccio helped Argentina to open up a decisive lead, and they clinched an 84-69 win. After their humbling of the reigning Olympic champions, Argentina had won a much deserved gold and they celebrated their moment with unfettered jubilation.