DREAM TEAM'S NEAR NIGHTMARE - SCOOP Olympic Update
DREAM team's near nightmare: SCOOP Olympic Update, Sat,30
Article: Mathew Loh
THAT AWESOME ARRAY of athletic super-stars collectively known as the "Dream Team" - Team USA Men's basketall team - came close to being grounded Friday night by a Lithuania team determined to turn the semi-final into an American nightmare.
However despite outscoring the multi-millionaire NBA players 46-37, in an inspirational second half comeback spurred by the sensational shooting of guard Sarunas Sasikevicius who led all-scorers with an phenomenal 27 points, the Lithuanians just fell short of causing a massive upset and went on to suffer a heartbreaking 85-83 defeat.
With the clock ticking down below a minute both teams were locked at 80-80 when Antonio McDyess fouled Ramunas Siskaukas as he shot for three. Unfortunately for the Baltic basketballers the normally deadly Siskaukas could only land one of his three free throws and Lithuania took a 81-80 lead.
Dunking wonder Vince Carter, who again impressed to lead US scorers with 18 points, then landed a crucial jumper to give his team a 82-81 lead. This was shortlived however as Lithuania maintained their charge to the final when their star guard Sasikevicius landed a super shot and the 'Dream Team' were staring defeat in the face as they trailed 83-82.
But Team USA dug deep in their obvious reserves of class and Kevin Garnett - a choice for MVP with 12 points and 14 rebounds - made a game-winning defensive play to win a foul when going for a steal.
Garnett stepped up to the line and hit his first shot to tie the game at 83-83, he then promptly placed hearts in the mouths of all American fans when he missed the next free throw but out of nowhere flew the giant McDyess who in a desperate effort to make-up for giving a crucial earlier foul took an exceptional offensive rebound and popped the ball into the net for his first bucket and the matchwinning two pointer.
So the dream continues with Team USA meeting France in the Olympic men's basketball final and after being brought down to earth by the fabulously competitive Lithuanian hoopsters the Americans are sure to be firing to add a gold medal to their assortment of honours.
In another dramatic night at the track the blue riband men's 1500 metres provided all the action it as traditionally offered when world record holder and one of history's greatest ever middle-distance runners Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco failed in his quest to win gold when he was run down in the straight by Kenya's Noah Ngeny.
It was a heartbreaking defeat for El Guerrouji who had pledged to win in Sydney after suffering a diasaster in the same race four years ago at the Atlanta Olympiad.
In that famous race El Guerrouji stumbled on the bell lap - an incident which has haunted El Guerrouji who has carried a picture of it ever since - and his arch-rival Algerian great Noureddine Morceli went on to score a famous victoy.
Those demons were meant to be exorcised last night and after cruising for the majority of the race El Guerrouji looked set to earn a spectacular victory.
But to his absolute horror he was eclipsed in the straight by Ngeny who sprinted down the track to take the gold for Kenya. El Guerrouji was inconsolable in his moment of defeat and collapsed weeping to the Sydney Olympic Stadium track a picture of pure athletic agony.
In the other main event of Friday's track and field programme the incredible 35-year-old German long-jumper Heike Drechler spoiled the Marion Jones show by winning the long-jump gold to ruin Jones' dream of a five gold bag.
Jones, however, was magnificent in defeat and hugged Drechler and openly acknowledged her as the superior jumper on the night.
Drechler who added the Sydney 2000 gold to the one she won at Barcelona 92 was ecstatic with a victory that was a perfect cap to an incredible career which began in 1983.