Postcard from Beijing: The final countdown

The countdown of the final 27 hours at the Beijing Olympics began Saturday evening. It was the last night of track at the Bird’s Nest, and San Francisco’s Shannon Rowbury produced America’s best-ever women’s Olympics 1,500-meter finish — seventh, running 4 minutes, 3.58 seconds.

The Sacred Heart Cathedral grad stayed with the lead pack and was in fourth when world champion Maryam Jamal of Bahrain broke with 500 meters to go. But Nancy Jebet Langat of Kenya had the best kick for an upset win in 4:00.23.

Rowbury was not pleased with her inability to chase the leaders on the last lap. “It’s hard to explain, but sometimes when you want to go, it’s just not there,” she said. “I didn’t have my legs today.” Rowbury is off to Europe now for a few races to cap a season in which she became America’s No. 4 all-time 1,500 runner at 4:00.33.

The countdown continued on Sunday morning. Stanford grad Ryan Hall joined with Dathan Ritzenhein to finish 10th and ninth, respectively, in the men’s marathon — the first time since 1976 that two Americans have placed in the top 10 at the Olympics.

More gold was at stake on Sunday afternoon, mostly in team events.

First, the USA men’s volleyball team defeated Brazil in four sets for its first gold since 1988, while boxing finals were also under way.

Then the U.S. men’s basketball team finished off Spain for the gold medal — just as the second half of the men’s water polo title game started, with Hungary leading the USA, 9-8. Layne Beaubien, one of four former Stanford stars for the American team, tied it at 9-9 before the Hungarians pulled away to win a third straight title, 14-10. “You are never going to win when you give up that many goals,” said team captain Tony Azevedo, also from Stanford.

The climax, of course, was the spectacular Sunday night closing ceremony and handover to London for 2012, where we’ll be headed for a 10th summer Olympics.

San Francisco native and College of San Mateo sports information director Fred Baer is covering his ninth Olympic Games as a journalist and is providing The Examiner with a behind-the-scenes view of the Beijing Games.

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