S Y D N E Y, Australia, Oct. 1, 2000 -- From the fields of play to Sydney’sspectacular harbor, Australia and the world’s athletes bid goodbyetoday to two weeks of sporting triumphs and doping embarrassments— a memorable Summer Olympics eager to claim its title of “bestgames ever.”
Fireworks exploded across the Sydney sky, heralding an 8.5-mile“fuse” designed to carry the Olympic torch’s symbolic light fromthe main stadium along barges in Homebush Bay to a jam-packeddowntown, where the majestic Harbor Bridge for an explosion oflight.
“Seven years ago, I said, ‘And the winner is Sydney,’” saidJuan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International OlympicCommittee, in remarks prepared for delivery. “Well, what can I saynow? Maybe, with my Spanish accent, ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.’”
The crowd of 100,000 thundered the response now known across theworld: “Oi! Oi! Oi!”
Giddy Fans and ‘Crocodile Dundee’
Organizers wanted a relaxed closing show that let competitorsand spectators send the games off in style. And a raucous,untethered, schticky party they got.
It veered oddly among comedy (slapstick routines), ancientritualism (Greek priestesses in flowing dresses) and the simplyhallucinogenic (a giant upended fish skeleton and shrimp onbicycles) — testament to what choreography, technology and anarenaful of enthusiastic spectators can do.
The festivities began minutes after Elias Rodriguez ofMicronesia ran into Olympic Stadium, ending the men’s marathon andfreeing the arena for athletes to swarm in. And if anyone worriedthese 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 cracklingwith energy. They did the wave, flashed flashlights by thethousands into a crystal-clear night and chanted that spirited“Aussie” chant.
And with cameras and carefree smiles, 10,000 athletes floodedthe biggest Olympic arena of all. Swimming gold medalist IanThorpe, in a red coat, carried the Australian flag, waving it tothe music. It was a fun, festive end to the games. And, boy, was itweird.
Thirteen-year-old Nikki Webster, who journeyed through 50,000years of Australian history in the opening ceremony, returned tostar in the more festive wrapup, which grew progressively moresurreal. If Salvador Dali ever held a homecoming parade, it mighthave 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 tomind. “Let’s party,” the scoreboard pulsed.
The ceremony was broadcast live on giant screens across Sydneyand Australia. It enlisted two Royal Air Force F-111s, fireworksartists from five continents, 7,000 performers and a parade of“Australian icons” from Greg Norman and Elle MacPherson tocountry singer Slim Dusty and, curiously, “Bananas in Pyjamas.”
Also included: Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan, a good-naturedsymbol of the struggle over the nation’s changing image.
Marketing a Diverse Land
Australia expended great effort showing itself to the worldduring these Olympics to help visitors and a TV audience ofbillions understand that the world’s southernmost continent is morethan kangaroos and boomerangs.
But, mindful of the tourism dollar,it also recognizes that pop-culture images still sell — and sellwell.
Thus the closing featured the Men at Work song “Land DownUnder.” It featured the rubber thong, “Australia’s beach footwearof choice.” It featured a tune any Olympic visitor cannot fail torecognize — the unofficial national anthem, “Waltzing Matilda.”
The verdict was certain and confident: Australia hassuccessfully introduced itself to the world.
“All Australians are entitled to feel proud of our athletes,our country and ourselves, and what our nation has achieved duringthis period,” Olympics minister Michael Knight said.
Athletic Feats …
As with any Olympics, the 2000 Summer Games offered a dizzyingselection of memorable moments to take home — and some thateveryone wishes they could forget.
From the pool to the track, the baseball field to the wrestlingring, athletes made the marks of a lifetime.
It was the Olympics of the Thorpedo. Of Cathy Freeman, theaboriginal sprinter who shouldered a nation’s racial burden. OfEric Moussambani, the swimmer from Equatorial Guinea who barelyfinished and captured the imagination of an underdog-friendlyworld.
It was an Olympics of whooshes — Ian Thorpe and Susie O’Neilland Jenny Thompson and Inge de Bruijn whooshing through the water.Marion Jones and Maurice Greene whooshing along the track. StacyDragila and Tatiana Grigorieva whooshing over the bar and claimingtheir spots in pole-vaulting history.
It was an Olympics of surprises and unexpected twists: the U.S.softball team rallying for gold after a series of stunning losses;American wrestler Rulon Gardner defeating the most formidable foeof all, Russian Alexander Karelin; the U.S. men’s basketball teamnearly falling to Lithuania; Lance Armstrong losing the 33-miletime trial to his close friend Viacheslav Ekimov of Russia.
It was an Olympics of firsts, especially for women. Trampolineand taekwondo and synchronized diving made their debuts, as didwomen’s pole vault, women’s water polo and women’s weightlifting.
… and Doping
And it was the Olympics of doping and cheating, showcased asnever before thanks to more stringent IOC testing policies andpunishments. Positive tests claimed five medals, including a goldcaptured by Andreea Raducan, the little Romanian girl whose doctorprescribed cold medicine that turned out to be banned.
During the Olympics themselves, athletes underwent about 3,600tests — more than in any previous games. Less than 0.5 percenttested positive; officials say that percentage is declining.
“It shows that athletes are more frightened, and that thetesting is improved,” said Jacques Rogge, vice chairman of the IOCMedical Commission.
Final Games for Samaranch
These were the final games for Samaranch, whose wife died hoursafter the opening ceremony. He went back to Spain to bury her andreturned a day later. He has praised the Sydney games throughout.
He said the games “could not have been better.”
“I am proud and happy to proclaim that you have presented tothe world the best Olympic Games ever,” Samaranch said. He hasapplied that moniker to games in the past; a notable exception wasAtlanta, which he called simply “most exceptional.”
Others were just as enthusiastic. “There’s an almost magicalfeel in Sydney at the moment,” said Australian Olympics ministerMichael Knight. “The Australian people have embraced thesegames.”
And 2004? Despite a slow start, Athens got an endorsement todayfrom the IOC, whose director-general said there is “no Plan B.”Some speculated the next Summer Games might return here if Greecewasn’t properly prepared.
“I know that Greece lost time,” said GiannaAngelopoulos-Daskalaki, who helped secure Athens’ bid and wasre-enlisted anew as head of the organizing committee.
“But whatever it will need,” she said, “we will do it.”