It’s almost seven years to the day since the gnarled and sly International Olympic Committee supremo Juan Antonio Samaranch portentously reached into his suit jacket pocket and produced an envelope, like a property developer meeting the Mayor of Las Vegas, and with smug showmanship, as if he had no idea of its contents, famously, stutteringly uttered the noises “Sid-u-nee”.
There was a universal moment of delay as we silently unscrambled and interpreted and finally comprehended. “Sid-u-nee?”. “Sid-u-nee!!”
Beijing and Berlin and Manchester and Istanbul’s loss was Sid-u-nee’s joy and our streets filled with dancing teenagers and politicians lining up for a piece of the action.
In the interminable days, months, years that pass, we have been a nation in preparation. Like an employee inviting his boss for dinner, we have anxiously filled the interregnum, cleaning and preening.
Now all that is left to do is worry.
And worry we do. For a nation with an inferiority complex and the world knocking at our door, we get in early, and speculate ad nauseum about all that will fail; trains that will derail, stadia that will collapse, tickets that will be scalped, hotels that will immolate, freeways that will congest, weather that will torment, humiliation that will reign.
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And so the Opening Ceremony arrives and passes, near perfectly, apart from the failure of the conveyor belt torch, a stupid idea incorporated, almost circus tightrope walker like, to tease and torment us.
And, yes, it is a glowing golden triumph; every cattle horse stampeding, choreographed lawn mowing, Ned Kelly mask wearing, jellyfish floating, Nikki Webster levitating, flag waving, hand holding, tear welling moment of it, a triumph. A thing of sheer relief as much as pride.
And for the 14 ensuing days we relax and relish the spectacle of what we have built and how they have come.
And then there are the medals.
Monday, September 25, 2000
The second week of the Games coincides with September school holidays and I find myself sitting with Sarah and the kids and thirty beer-sweating locals in a hotbox weatherboard Workers Club in Far North Queensland. We devour porterhouse and coleslaw but all eyes are transfixed on the flyspecked telly precariously suspended in the corner of the Workers Club next to the lawn bowls ribbons and the faded yachting photographs and the No Bare Feet Or Singlets sign.
There are nine Gold medal finals up for grabs this night. Michael Johnson easily wins the men’s 400 metres. Tatiana Grigorieva, a beautiful blonde Russian pole vaulter who we discover halfway down the runway is miraculously representing Australia, battles it out to claim a silver medal. Thank God for immigration.
But for all of us, the event of the night, arguably the event of the Games, is Cathy Freeman and the women’s 400 metres.
The pistol sounds and the race starts and we abandon all thoughts of our lime jelly frogs in a pond for Cathy. All we can hear is the whir of the giant fan, the zapping of truant blowflies and the orgasmic tenor outpourings of sportscaster Bruce McAvaney. “Cathy is battling it out with Katharine Merry and Lorraine Graham” screeches Bruce. As they round the bend and hit the home straight, it’s all Cathy. “And here she comes, Cathy Freeman”, yells Bruce, “Our Cathy”, shrouded in green lycra like an alien, a holy woman, and she runs and she runs. And she breasts the tape. The stadium erupts. “What a legend!” screams Bruce. “What a champion!”. “What a relief,” interjects his co-commentator, Raelene Boyle.
It is true. There is relief, you can see it written on her face, and the faces of the one hundred thousand spectators at the Olympic stadium, and the faces of the forty sweaty hungry souls at the Port Douglas Workers Club. And we cheer her famous victory.
We watch with tears of joy as Cathy Freeman runs her preordained lap of victory bearing two flags, the Australian and the Aboriginal, one for us and one for her grandmother of the Stolen generation, the flags of our future and of our past, carrying the pride of a Nation.
A few days later Samaranch will announce to the world what all of us in the Workers Club already well knew — that these Games of the Sid-u-nee Olympics “are the best ever”.