SYDNEY — So you liked watching the world’s best-ever Olympic Games? Wait, there’s more. Hold that remote control for the next sports extravaganza from Australia, the Sydney 2000 Paralympics.
Now arriving from 125 countries are 4,000 athletes who have overcome some horrific physical handicaps to compete for gold medals in sports that are beyond the capacity of most of us able-bodied couch potatoes.
|Japanese athletes arrive at Sydney’s Olympic Village Friday for the Paralympics.|
And if the billions who admired the televised sporting entertainment from Homebush, Sydney, in recent weeks thought they had seen the ultimate in spectator hype, wait till these brave young men and women show real human courage. Already the Paralympic flame, lit in front of Parliament House, Canberra, by Ngunnawal Aborigines, is doing the rounds of state capitals before arriving at Stadium Australia for the Oct. 18 start. There, the “disabled” are in peak form, ready to perform physical feats most of us can only envy.
There, too, the high-tech facilities that made the Olympics so eye-popping for international TV audiences are ready. Again, the rest of the world will see the backdrop beauty of Sydney Harbor. Alas, not the volleyball on dazzling Bondi Beach. But still the calm efficiency that prompted International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch to proclaim “the best Olympic Games ever.”
Needless to add, Australia is still hyperventilating over that success. Frankly, many of us didn’t think we could do it so well. Indeed, the pre-games doubters are still dumbfounded. The trains would not run on time, we were told. It would be another Atlanta fiasco. Could we cope with a Munich-style shoot-out?
The cynics were wrong. Totally out. Guided by smooth expertise, much of it with volunteer workers, the Games went like clockwork. Overseas visitors lavished praise on ever aspect of the conduct and spirit of all competitions. Many of them were puzzled, of course, by the real Okker (read: true Australian) aspects of the opening ceremony. Such as the sight of lawn mowing (every suburbanite’s weekend chore) and galvanized iron dunnies (old-style Outback lavatories). Two of many in-jokes appreciated by us locals.
Big Macs and Coca-Cola were standard fare among the 110,000 Stadium Australia spectators, this being a country even more Americanized in eating than Japan. Though one U.S. corporate sponsor failed to make a killing. NBC got an exclusive TV coverage rating of only 14.6 percent, well below its high-cost ratings in Atlanta, Barcelona and Seoul. Seems Americans wanted to watch national football and baseball and a few even watch politicians. Either that or they had to circumvent the delayed-time NBC newscasts with real-time Internet.
Out home-town politician, Olympics Minister Michael Knight, came to grief. Much criticized over his pre-games handling of ticket scandals, the consummate politician basked in the euphoria that suddenly swept this city. Then the downfall. He insisted that Sandy Hollway, the quiet, hardworking Games organizer, receive only a silver medal from Samaranch, not a gold like other officials such as himself got. An “act of bastardry” screamed newspaper headlines. Next day Knight announced he will resign from Parliament. No doubt some head-chopping American corporation will hire his expertise.
Immigration Minister Phil Ruddock is a Canberra politician who fell under the spell of the world’s visiting media and may yet pay the price. Trying to explain to Le Monde of Paris the disadvantages of Aborigines in terms of past primitiveness, Ruccock said they “were not familiar with the wheel.” Aboriginal activist Pat Dodson then accused him of using “archaic and divisive language.” Ruddock’s political future looks shaky.
Political blunders excepted, the Games were remarkably free of rancor. With the giant exception of doping. Cheats again prospered, alas, and it’s hard to see how the IOC is going to ensure clean games in Athens 2004.
So many syringes were left lying around the Homebush Olympic Village that cleaners refused to service some athletes’ rooms. Village “mayor” Graham Richardson named Bulgaria as a major culprit. Bulgaria was one of 20 national teams whose cleaning services were suspended for failing to dispose of syringes in 700 sealed bins around the village. Though IOC coordinator Jacques Rogge did try to explain: “A syringe is not a synonym for drugs. It is normal practice.”
Suspicions of drug abuse among top medals-winning US teams mounted when The Australian newspaper obtained documents showing 208 positive drug tests of track and field competitors were returned last year in the United States and only 10 resulted in suspensions. The uproar followed revelations that C.J. Hunter, husband of U.S. track star Marion Jones, had tested positive four times this year to the steroid nandrolone. Shot-putter Hunter had earlier pulled out of competition.
“If the United States, with its hand-on-heart, holier-than-thouness on so many subjects is not going to lead the fight against drugs in sport, then who is?” demanded sports commentator Peter Fitzsimons. “It can only be the IOC.”
As Samaranch vacates the IOC presidency, it seems time is ripe for the overdue crackdown. His replacement-Jacques Rogge is looking good. But as Sydney found out, Greece will need to be vigilant against those athletes and coaches who use advanced science to cheat.
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