From the fields of play to Sydney’s spectacular harbor, Australia and the world’s athletes bid goodbye today to two weeks of sporting triumphs and doping embarrassments — a memorable Summer Olympics eager to claim its title of “best games ever.”
Fireworks exploded across the Sydney sky, heralding an 8.5-mile “fuse” designed to carry the Olympic torch’s symbolic light from the main stadium along barges in Homebush Bay to a jam-packed downtown, where the majestic Harbor Bridge for an explosion of light.
“Seven years ago, I said, ‘And the winner is Sydney,’” said Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, in remarks prepared for delivery. “Well, what can I say now? Maybe, with my Spanish accent, ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.’”
The crowd of 100,000 thundered the response now known across the world: “Oi! Oi! Oi!”
Giddy Fans and ‘Crocodile Dundee’
Organizers wanted a relaxed closing show that let competitors and spectators send the games off in style. And a raucous, untethered, schticky party they got.
It veered oddly among comedy (slapstick routines), ancient ritualism (Greek priestesses in flowing dresses) and the simply hallucinogenic (a giant upended fish skeleton and shrimp on bicycles) — testament to what choreography, technology and an arenaful of enthusiastic spectators can do.
The festivities began minutes after Elias Rodriguez of Micronesia ran into Olympic Stadium, ending the men’s marathon and freeing the arena for athletes to swarm in. And if anyone worried these would be dubbed the “Drug Games,” it didn’t show tonight: The Olympic flame went dark, but the partying went on.
Olympics-giddy fans and volunteers packed a stadium crackling with energy. They did the wave, flashed flashlights by the thousands into a crystal-clear night and chanted that spirited “Aussie” chant.
And with cameras and carefree smiles, 10,000 athletes flooded the biggest Olympic arena of all. Swimming gold medalist Ian Thorpe, in a red coat, carried the Australian flag, waving it to the music. It was a fun, festive end to the games. And, boy, was it weird.
Thirteen-year-old Nikki Webster, who journeyed through 50,000 years of Australian history in the opening ceremony, returned to star in the more festive wrapup, which grew progressively more surreal. If Salvador Dali ever held a homecoming parade, it might have looked like this.
A lawn mower crashed through a stage and hundreds of band members — on purpose — in a mass chase torn from a Buster Keaton movie. There emerged outsized plastic dancers, robots on stilts and an angry inflatable kangaroo pushed by trolls in halos.
Athletes batted around a behemoth eyeball. And nobody seemed to mind. “Let’s party,” the scoreboard pulsed.
The ceremony was broadcast live on giant screens across Sydney and Australia. It enlisted two Royal Air Force F-111s, fireworks artists from five continents, 7,000 performers and a parade of “Australian icons” from Greg Norman and Elle MacPherson to country singer Slim Dusty and, curiously, “Bananas in Pyjamas.”
Also included: Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan, a good-natured symbol of the struggle over the nation’s changing image.
Marketing a Diverse Land
Australia expended great effort showing itself to the world during these Olympics to help visitors and a TV audience of billions understand that the world’s southernmost continent is more than kangaroos and boomerangs.