Sydney Olympics celebrates ten year anniversary. This makes me feel REAL old
They celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Sydney Olympics down in Australia the last couple days, complete with a re-lighting of the Olympic flame by star Olympian Cathy Freeman and Paralympian Louise Sauvage.
In some ways, it seems like yesterday that I was shipped down to Sydney to head up the Star's coverage of the 2000 Summer Olympics. I had never covered an Olympic Games before, but I was two years or so into being one of the associate editors in the Star's sports department, and I'd covered Toronto's bid for the 1996 Summer Olympics and been to a lot of Olympic meetings, so I guess that made me qualified.
It was the early days of the Internet for us at the Star, so I only did a few updates each day, as well as a fairly primitive blog. I don't think we even called it a blog. I think it was simply a notebook that we posted online with daily observations about the Olympics, Sydney and life in general in the five-ring fishbowl.
Most of the journalists were given sleeping quarters at the official media village, which was was on the grounds of a former hospital for the mentally ill (supply your own punch line about journalists here). But there wasn't room for little old me, so I was stationed in the allegedly wild King's Cross area in a hotel. I think it was called Top of the Cross, but I can't seem to find it on the Internet.
Anyway, it was a drag in some ways to walk to the train station, take a half hour train to the Olympic complex in Homebush and then walk another 15 minutes to the media centre, where I pretty much stayed from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day (a pattern that would repeat itself every two years, as I've now managed the Star's crew at six Olympics in a row). Yet it was also a blessing, as I didn't just hang around with journalists but got to see everyday Sydneysiders in action.
What I really liked was the coffee shop at the bottom of my building, where I went for breakfast every morning. The wait staff was covered with tattoos and pierced body parts at a time when it wasn't quite so common, and they made a mean cappuccino and served great croissants. My wife came for part of the Games, and we quickly made friends with a young couple and their baby. The father was originally from, I think, Chatham, Ontario and was a cop in Sydney. I wish we'd stayed in touch, as they were great company and very welcoming.
I got a little sick of the chants of "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oy, oy, oy" every day, but it was tons of fun to watch the Sydney folks embrace the games as only Australians (I thought at the time) could do. They celebrated every medal, even when it wasn't theirs, and kept up their spirits over a long haul.
I remember celebrating the start of the games with a night out in the Rocks district, drinking a few beers in the shadow of the Opera House. It was late at night and we ran into Paul Beeston's daughter down on the waterfront. Paul was then working for Major League Baseball, and for some reason Dave Perkins and Doug Smith (I think) and I thought it was wise to call him at 5 a.m. New York time and wish him a good morning. I doubt he recalls the incident as fondly, if at all.
Perkins, who recently retired from the Star but still, thankfully, writes one column a week, rode downtown with me on the subway that night. I remember a little old lady got on board the train and Dave literally jumped out of his chair to make sure the lady had a place to sit. I looked at him to suggest "Hey, nice move," but he just shook his head at me as if to say, "Don't tell anyone I'm such a nice guy." Good stuff.
I got to see a couple innings of baseball plus one swim race and a quarter of a USA basketball game with Vince Carter, but the rest of the time I kept an eye on things via the television. Not ideal, but I was in Australia, for goodness sakes, so no complaints.
My favourite memory actually involved an event I didn't even see. My wife had gone to, I think, a session of track and field one day and was sitting in the stands with a bunch of Aussies (duh). It was the day Daniel Nestor and Sebastian Lareau were playing for the gold medal in men's tennis, and they were taking on the Australian doubles team known as "the Woodies."
Tennis is pretty big in Australia, and everyone was rooting for the Woodies. One guy next to my wife was listening on his radio while he watched the track action. He'd been kidding her about Canada not winning much (there was a lot of that going around in Sydney), but then it was suddenly match point for the Canadians. He took the earphone out of his ear and handed it to my wife and said, "Hear, you listen. It's your gold medal."
I'm planning a trip in early November, and I can't wait to get back to see the Opera House. I got to hear the International Olympic Committee's opening session there in 2000, and it was spectacular. Maybe this time it'll be AC-DC. Nah, probably not.
Also can't wait to just hang around a bit and play tourist, as well as check out Bondi beach (see photo at left) and take one of the ferry boats in the harbour. I might even sip a little Barossa Valley cabernet and climb the Harbour Bridge, not necessarily in that order.See ya soon, Sydney.