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U.S. Wins Basketball Gold As Olympics Wind Down

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U.S. Wins Basketball Gold As Olympics Wind Down

U.S. Wins Basketball Gold As Olympics Wind Down

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News this is Weekend Edition. I'm Liane Hansen. The closing ceremony at the Beijing Olympics is just getting under way. On the final day in an exciting victory over Spain, the U.S. men's basketball team won the gold medal. The Olympics were marked by stirring world-record performances. Controversies over pollution and China's human rights record took a temporary backseat as the athletes took center stage. We're joined from Beijing by NPR's Frank Langfitt who's been following the sports, the politics, and the pyrotechnics. Frank, first of all, what's going to happen at the closing ceremony?

FRANK LANGFITT: Well, it's going to be another extravaganza by Chinese director Zhang Yimou. It actually just started a few minutes ago with a huge burst of fireworks over the Bird's Nest. And tonight there are going to be 7,000 performers. And like the opening ceremonies, we're going to see a lot of drums. There's a floating one - a giant drum floating over the stadium right now. People are going to be soaring around the air. And then there's going to be an eight-minute handover performance for London. You know, they're going to be doing the games in 2012. And that's going to feature soccer star David Beckham and Jimmy Page, the guitarist with Led Zeppelin.

HANSEN: Well, we mentioned the gold medal over Spain in men's basketball, but what were some of the other memorable moments in the competition?

LANGFITT: Well, you know, I think the two big stars here were Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. I mean, they essentially rewrote the record books for their sports. Phelps, obviously in the pool: seven world records, eight golds. Usain Bolt, I mean, really kind of literally bursting onto the scene: three world records, three golds. And for me, you know, the most exciting moment that I saw was Bolt in the 200-meters in the Bird's Nest. I remember him coming around that turn, and getting into the straightaway he just accelerated and left everybody behind.

For China, it's been a great games. They won 51 gold medals. That's more than anybody else, including the U.S., and it's 19 more than they won in Athens. And coming into these games, you remember, pollution was a really big concern. And early on, a lot of buildings you couldn't see them that well, they were shrouded in smog. But in the end it didn't seem to be that much of a factor. I mean, to give you example, today's marathon. We woke up, it rained last night, and it was a sunny, clear day. And, you know, frankly, to some degree, I think, to everyone's surprise, it ended in an Olympic record.

HANSEN: Would you give China a gold medal as Olympic hosts?

LANGFITT: No, I would not. And I don't think anybody who paid close attention to this would. I mean, I think the image that you get of the country in the end after these games is a very complicated one. The venues were great. We just mentioned the Bird's Nest. They were very creative architecturally. Hospitality was extraordinary. There was an army of volunteers. And people who've covered the games before say they've never seen people go out of their way so much for visitors.

The other side of the games though, there was fakery and deception sort of throughout. You start with the opening ceremony. You had this girl, as we all know, lip-synching because apparently the real singer just wasn't cute enough for the politburo. There are still questions about some of the ages of the Chinese gymnasts who won the team gold medal. The government promised free reporting to us, but blocked Web sites. They set up protest zones, but in the end they ended up being a trap. So, I think a kind of a mixed picture.

HANSEN: NPR's Frank Langfitt in Beijing. Frank, thanks a lot.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Liane.

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