Saturday, September 16, 2000

Tony's Column - First Impressions

I’m assuming that you’ve already read and seen a great deal about the Opening Ceremony, so I’ll skip the standard review of proceedings. Yes, it was undoubtedly a success and of course it was a privilege to be there, but I’d like to take a slightly different look at the Ceremony (and, later, at the Games themselves) from the viewpoint of an ordinary Australian who paid a ridiculous amount of money to be there.


There was much hand-wringing before the Games about Sydney’s ability to get so many people to and from the various locations without sending them up the wrong train line, derailing them or otherwise delaying them. Although it’s early days yet, the transport seems to be running superbly. Perhaps this is a ruse : a cleverly orchestrated misplacement in the next few days of a dozen or so US swimmers could add significantly to the Aussie medal count. My experience in getting to and from the Opening Ceremony was nothing short of sensational, even if the route was a little circuitous.

Homes and Gardens

I had expected to see every third house along the Olympic bus route bedecked with Green and Gold streamers and proudly flying an Australian flag.  Along the entire 10km journey to the Stadium, I counted a paltry 13 flags, two of which I know to be permanent fixtures and four of which came from the one extremely patriotic household, quite close to the site. I’d also expected to see pristine streets, shined and waxed ready for all the world to see. Instead, Sydney’s suburbs appear to have maintained a comforting sameness, with no sign of artifice or pretence. I like that.


Immediately on alighting from our bus - some 1.5km from the Stadium - we were shepherded through an airport-like security checkpoint at which our bags and persons were searched, and any dangerous or otherwise prohibited objects taken away. A Japanese lady behind me tried to smuggle in a bottle of Coke. I overheard the checkpoint staff member who found the offending item inform his colleague most officiously that he had “confiscated” the Coke, presumably for later supervised destruction in a secured area. The Games must be one of the few sporting events where they confiscate a sponsor’s product from you as you arrive and then offer it for sale to you once you’re inside the venue. Food too is subject to confiscation on entry – except if it is required for “medical purposes”. I considered claiming “starvation avoidance” as a medical condition but later recanted and left all foodstuffs at home.

Inside the Stadium

From the outside, the Stadium is nothing special - no more majestic than, say, the MCG. Inside, there is a feeling of closeness to the action, although I could be a little biased given that I sat in the second row. Normally, securing such seats would be cause for celebration, but, despite their designation as ‘A’ seats, the first few rows of the North stand suffered two indignities. Firstly, a mostly only slightly obscuring camera-on-a-crane contraption and a somewhat more obscuring two-TV-screen, four-person booth to operate it. Secondly - and unbelievably - a totally obscuring brass band, which spent the entire duration of the Athlete’s Parade with its collective back to us, resulting in a few hundred people spending an hour and a half trying to guess what was happening in the arena, generally unassisted by video screens showing nothing but the flag of the most recently announced delegation. Not happy, Juan.


Speaking of flags, I was particularly attracted to the Nepalese ensign. Not content with your standard rectangle, the designers of the Nepalese flag looked at a broader range of planar objects and opted for a sort of twin triangular shape. This shows an admirable independence of spirit and I’m desperately hoping for a Nepalese competitor to medal so that I, along with the whole world, can watch this uniquest of flags climb the Olympic flagpole.


If you’ve video-taped the Ceremony, find the bit where the fire-eaters are on the arena. Now find a shot where a few of them are together, between blowing fireballs. Detect any symbolic reference? At one stage, I had a row of about seven or eight of them in front of me, each with a bottle nestled contentedly about belly height. To me they looked just like the stereotypical Aussie blokes gathering at a barbie, beer in hand. (Of course, these particular blokes – and gals – would be especially handy at any barbie. They could spit out their drinks and restart a flagging flame).

National Anthems

It had been my understanding that, traditionally, each country’s national anthem played whilst the athletes entered the arena during the Opening Ceremony. Obviously I am misguided in this belief. Nevertheless, playing “The Winner Takes It All” when the Swedish team entered the stadium seemed borderline. And whilst I’m on national anthems, I thought the rendition of the Australian anthem was a prize moment. Tens of thousands of proud Australians belted out the first and what they assumed was the only verse and chorus. Contented smiles turned to puzzled looks as Julie Anthony appeared. Was she going to sing it again? No, the words are different. Oh – it’s the second verse (didn’t know there was one).

And there was so much more … the cool hover-scooters, the speeches, the torch and The Cauldron.  And there’s still 16 days to go.

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