Greek Soccer Team Voted World's Greatest Sports Story in 2004

LONDON - From SportsLine.com wire reports - Greece proved the big winner in international sports in 2004 with two great triumphs few expected.

The country's stunning run to the title in the European soccer championship and the overwhelming success of the Athens Olympics a month later finished Nos. 1 and 2 in a poll of the top sports stories voted on by Associated Press members outside the United States. Lance Armstrong's sixth consecutive victory in the Tour de France was third.

Greece which had never won a game in a major soccer championship overcame 100-1 odds to win Euro 2004. The Greeks coached by 65-year-old German Otto Rehhagel upset defending champion France in the quarterfinals and beat host Portugal in the final.

The soccer title received 10 first-place votes and a total of 444 points in the AP poll of more than 70 AP subscriber sports editors and broadcasters outside the United States. Voters listed their top 10 stories with 10 points for first place nine points for second etc.

Greece was still celebrating when the Olympics started on time. After years of concerns over construction delays cost overruns and terrorist threats the Athens Games went off without a hitch. At the closing ceremony IOC president Jacques Rogge thanked Greece for putting on "unforgettable dream games."

The Olympic success attracted the most first-place votes (21) but still finished a distant second with 310 points. The race for third place was extremely close with Armstrong edging Michael Schumacher's record 13 Formula One Grand Prix victories 259-257. Armstrong received four first-place votes Schumacher none.

The record 24 doping cases at the Athens Olympics came fifth with 189 points and six first-place votes. The biggest scandal involved Greek sprinters Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou who missed drug tests on the eve of the games and claimed they were injured in a motorcycle crash. They eventually pulled out of the games. Last week they were temporarily suspended by track and field's governing body.

The Athens Games also produced the sixth-place story - swimmer Michael Phelps' haul of eight medals including six gold. He got 185 points.

Just behind Phelps was the Russian revolution in women's tennis a story drawing 181 points. Anastasia Myskina became the first Russian woman to win a Grand Slam tournament title by beating Elena Dementieva in the French Open final. Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon at age 17 and Svetlana Kuznetsova followed by defeating Dementieva for the U.S. Open title. The Russians also won the Fed Cup for the first time.

The emergence of China as an Olympic superpower four years before Beijing hosts the next games was eighth in the survey with 170 points. China won 32 gold medals in Athens second only to the United States and hurdler Liu Xiang equaled a world record in winning the 110-meter hurdles.

Roger Federer's three Grand Slam tournament titles in 2004 - Wimbledon the Australian Open and U.S. Open - finished ninth with 154 points.

Arsenal won the English Premier League without losing any of its 38 games and went on to set a domestic record of 49 league games without a defeat - enough to capture 10th place in the poll with 147 points.