Beijing What fencer Mariel Zagunis started, Dwyane Wade and the "Redeem Team" finished.
In between, Michael Phelps and the rest of the U.S. delegation put on one heck of an Olympics - perhaps their best ever.
By reclaiming gold in men's basketball, pulling off an emotional victory in men's volleyball and claiming silver in team handball, the United States wrapped up the Beijing Olympics on Sunday with 110 medals - its most in a non-boycotted Olympics since the 1904 St. Louis Games, which hardly count because of how little the rest of the world was represented.
Sure, there were some high-profile flubs at the track.
And the 36 gold medals was the same Americans won four years ago in Athens; it also was well below the 51 golds won by China.
But those are small details to the U.S. Olympic Committee.
"We could not be more proud of our athletes for everything they accomplished here in Beijing, both on and off the field of play," USOC chairman Peter Ueberroth said. "Our first priority going into these games was to compete clean, and we are extremely proud that our athletes are sharing our commitment to this principle. They represented our country with pride and honor, and with one of the best U.S. Olympic performances in history."
USOC chief executive Jim Scherr added that the team "inspired millions of young people to pursue their dreams." That's hard to quantify, but there's little doubt Americans were watching.
According to Nielsen Media Research, the first 15 days of NBC's broadcasts reached 208.7 million viewers, putting it on the verge of passing the viewership of the 1996 Atlanta Games as the most-viewed event in U.S. television history.
Starting with those '96 games, the U.S. has been atop the medals table at four straight Olympics. The USOC noted the accomplishment, considering more than 40 world records and 120 Olympics records were set - and, no, Phelps and Usain Bolt didn't set all of them, it just seemed like it.
The only downer: Although competition has ended, there are still other "games" being played that could affect the medal totals.
The high-profile one is the age controversy in women's gymnastics, with several of China's athletes thought to be too young. The latest news is China's deputy sports minister attributed the confusion surrounding one of its gold medalist gymnasts to a paperwork mistake during a team transfer. The girl, He Kexin, was listed as being 13 in a Nov. 3, 2007 report by China's official news agency. Gymnasts had to turn 16 in 2008 to have been eligible for these Olympics.
"I can right here accurately say that the ages of the members of our gymnastics delegation entirely conform to the requirements for participation in the Beijing Olympic Games," Cui Dalin said at a news conference Sunday.
If accusations are verified, China could lose two gold and two bronzes. Americans would have two silvers upgraded to gold.
At another news conference Sunday, officials from Netherland Antilles said they are protesting a ruling that stripped one of their sprinters of a silver medal in the 200-meter dash. If the Court of Arbitration for Sport rules in their favor, the U.S. would lose a medal. A ruling is expected by Sept. 30.
"This process doesn't bother me," said sprinter Churandy Martina, who was chosen to carry his nation's flag in the closing ceremony. "If I got it, I got it. But it's supposed to be fair play. ... They're supposed to go by the rules."
USA Basketball asked NBA stars to make a three-year commitment to the national team. Their payoff came when the gold medals were hung around their necks, something that hadn't happened to Americans at a major international tournament since the 2000 Olympics.
The finale wasn't the coronation the superstars might have been expecting after dominating their first seven games, including a 37-point victory over finals foe Spain.
The lead was only four with about two minutes left. They wound up winning 118-107.
"Much respect to Spain, but the U.S. is back on top again," LeBron James said.
Wade scored 27 points and Kobe Bryant added 20, including a four-point play with 3:10 left. He then held his finger to his lips to quiet the rowdy Spanish crowd behind the basket. Afterward, the NBA MVP pounded his hands toward the floor in honor of claiming the most important piece of basketball hardware he didn't already own.
The celebration began during a break after some technical fouls on Spain with 26 seconds left. When it was over, "Born in the USA" played as everyone savored their return to the top of their sport.
"We played with great character in one of the great games in international basketball history, I think," U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Rudy Fernandez scored 22 points, and Pau Gasol had 21 for Spain, the reigning world champions who were hoping to win their first Olympic gold.
Argentina, the 2004 gold winner, snagged bronze with an 87-75 victory over Lithuania.
The first major news story of these games was the knife-wielding attacker who killed a man and wounded two women. The victims turned out to be the in-laws of the U.S. men's volleyball coach.
Hugh McCutcheon missed the first three games dealing with the tragedy. The Americans went 3-0 without him - then finished off their perfect record after he returned.
In the finals against defending champion Brazil, the U.S. lost the first game then won the next three for a gold that would have been spectacular even without the emotional layer. It was certainly there, though, and when the game ended, McCutcheon buried his head in his hands and walked off the court.
"It all was starting to sink in," he said. "I had to take a step out and collect my thoughts and collect my emotions and come back out. It's a very meaningful moment."
McCutcheon raised his hands in victory at the medal ceremony.
"I'm sure he was overwhelmed by everything, not only what happened on the volleyball court," U.S. player Richard Lambourne said. "It's just something he poured his heart and soul into for the last four years."
"But certainly with the tragedy that befell his family at the beginning of these games, I'm so happy he was able to be here and experience this with us," he added. "Because he's a huge, if not the biggest, part of our team."
Men's water polo
In their last chance for a gold medal, the U.S. came up just short, losing 14-10 to a Hungarian team that became the first country to win three straight gold medals in the sport since Britain in 1920.
An American team that came in ranked ninth in the world that surprised just about everyone by getting to the final kept it close early and had it tied at 9 in the third quarter. But the Hungarians pulled away down the stretch, scoring five unanswered goals and turning a close match into a blowout.
Nonetheless, the Americans (5-2) were content with returning to the medal stand for the first time since 1988. Not bad for a program that gets little national attention because the sport is so geographically confined to California and really was trying to regroup after going through four coaches in the last four years.
"We've come a long way," coach Terry Schroeder said.
Zou Shiming won China's first gold medal in boxing. Then, Zhang Xiaoping made it two.
In the day's first event, Samuel Wanjiru added to Kenya's proud distance-running legacy.
Wanjiru became the first person from his country to win the gold medal in marathon, and doing so in an Olympic record time of 2 hours, 6 minutes, 32 seconds.
Russia won the team competition the morning after Russian Evgeniya Kanaeva won the individual event.
The 302nd and last gold medal went to France, which beat Iceland 28-23 to deny the small country its first gold in an Olympic event.