Still, they proved to be beloved conquistadors. With the NBA's presence for the first time, the rest of the world conceded that the real battle was for the silver medal. Croatia proved up to the task, advancing to the final where it lost to the United States, 117-85.
Sometimes, it seemed as if the geopolitical baggage of the Cold War era could not be forgotten during competition. This was no more evident than when Lithuania defeated the CIS, 82-78, for the bronze medal. The game, featuring eight players from the 1988 Soviet Union team that won the gold medal in Seoul, was emotional.
The CIS and China were not expected to match the strength and quickness of the Americas' two best teams. But after semifinal upsets, the United States and Cuba were left playing for bronze medal.
In the end, the CIS had enough firepower to beat China and its 6-foot-8, 278-pound center, Haixa Zheng, 76-66. Natalia Zassoulskaia, a 6-2 forward, led the former Soviets with 19 points.
The United States, with a seasoned group of women, fell apart in a 79-73 semifinal loss to the CIS and had to settle for the bronze medal.
Cuba re-established its dominance over Olympic boxing after a 12-year absence by qualifying nine boxers for the finals and by winning seven gold medals. Cuban fighters were a combined 46-5 for the tournament.
The United States proved to be a major disappointment with only a gold, silver and bronze. One of the most controversial moments came when world champion Eric Griffin was upset, 6-5, under a new computer scoring system.
CANOE / KAYAK
In flatwater racing, Germany dominated with four gold medals, two silvers and a bronze in men's and two golds and a silver in women's. The Germans added a bronze medal in whitewater slalom kayak.
Elisabeth Micheler of Germany won the gold in the women's single kayak slalom, and Lukas Pollert of Czechoslovakia won the men's singles in canoe slalom. In double canoe slalom, Scott Strausbaugh of Dover, Pa., and Joe Jacobi of Bethesda, Md., won the gold.
Britain's Chris Boardman set a world record in winning the men's 4,000-meter individual pursuit to highlight the cycling events. Boardman's revolutionary carbon fiber bicycle is expected to change the face of track cycling.
Boardman was by no means the only surprise of the cycling competition. Kathy Watt of Australia won the women's road race when she broke free on the final lap of the five-lap race through Spanish vineyards. Watt won because the competition watched world champion Jeannie Longo of France, who took the silver and is so disliked among the women riders they were willing to sacrifice their chances to keep her from winning.
Watt took second in the 3,000-meter individual pursuit, won by Petra Rossner of Germany. Rebecca Twigg of San Diego took the bronze.
In sports hoping to eventually be added to the Olympic community, Argentina defeated Spain, 8-5, in the roller hockey final.
Spain and Mexico dominated pelota competition, with Spain winning four gold medals and three silvers. Mexico had three golds and a silver. Other countries that did well were Cuba, Argentina, Venezuela and France, which had four seconds and a third.
In taekwondo, Spain and South Korea won the most matches.
She was not yet 14, but Fu Mingxia won over the judges, as well as the world's diving fans. Fu was almost 50 points better than Elena Mirochina of the CIS in the women's platform, and laid the foundation for an outstanding exhibition by Chinese divers. Mary Ellen Clark of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., rallied to win a bronze.
Gao Min, who has not lost a competition since 1986, won her second Olympic gold medal by defeating Irina Lachko of the CIS in the women's springboard for a Chinese sweep of the women's golds.
Sun Shuwei, 16, won the gold in men's platform, Scott Donie of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., won the silver and China's Xiong Ni took the bronze. Tan Liangde, who earned two silvers behind Greg Louganis in Seoul, was headed for another gold when American Mark Lenzi surprised him in the men's springboard. Liangde settled for the silver.
France, the world champion in show-jumping, could manage only a bronze medal as the Netherlands won its first gold in the team event because of superb riding of Jos Lansink. The Netherlands also finished second in team dressage, behind Germany. The United States won the bronze.
Matt Ryan led Australia to the three-day team gold after winning the individual three-day gold, and Norman Dello Joio of West Palm Beach, Fla., was a surprise bronze medalist in individual jumping. Ludgar Beerbaum of Germany won the event.
France dominated individually, but as a team could muster only a bronze medal. Philippe Omnes of France won the individual foil, and teammate Eric Srecki won the individual epee. Frenchmen Jean-Francois Lamour won a bronze in sabre and Jean-Michel Henry won a bronze in epee.