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An Olympic ode from Down Under

By John Raedler
CNN Correspondent

This news analysis was written for CNN Interactive.

In this story:

Watching sports g'day and g'night

Nationalism or natural enthusiasm?

A young 'Aussie - Oi!'


seagull and flame
A seagull flies near the Olympic flame at the Olympic stadium in Sydney on Thursday.  

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- So far, so ... marvelous!

The Summer Olympic Games, which opened September 15 and wrap up Sunday, are already being hailed as a success -- and not just by Australians. Indeed, Sports Illustrated senior writer Rick Reilly has gone so far as to suggest that Sydney play host to every summer Olympics through the year 3000.

"I give up," Reilly wrote during the first week of the Games. "This is the single-most beautiful city in the world." That echoes opinions expressed by many current visitors to Sydney.

The ingredients in the apparent success of the Sydney Games are many. But to me, three stand out: the city, the people and the successful working of the city's much questioned transportation system.

As a one-time resident of Sydney who has lived and worked on three other continents for most of the past 28 years, I can only concur with Reilly's description of the city. Sydney's stupendous harbor and ocean beaches, vividly clean air and water, abundant public parks and prolific greenery have won over many a travel-weary skeptic.

"Sydneysiders," as residents are known, are vibrantly multicultural. A quarter of the city's 4 million people were born outside Australia. More than 80 languages are spoken in the city. And for the Olympics, all these people appear to be trying to win the gold medal for friendliness and helpfulness.

I confess my greatest fear about Sydney's playing host to the Olympics concerned transportation. The city's modest transport infrastructure strains to cope with its load in normal times. How was it going to cope with up to a million visitors during the Olympics?

A few things helped. School holidays were rescheduled to coincide with the Games. Many businesses gave their workers vacations. Access to the main Olympics site was by public transport only. Hundreds of extra buses were brought in. And a new rail link was built to the main Games complex.

Despite all that, I am still not sure how those in charge of transport have made the system cope as well as it has. Ironically, in my experience, getting around the city during the Olympics has been easier than it is at other times.

Watching sports g'day and g'night

To the limited extent Australians are aware (or even concerned) that most Americans are not seeing the Games live on television, they are perplexed.

Aussies are among the most ardent sports enthusiasts in the world. Because of their geographic location, they think nothing of watching live TV coverage of rugby from South Africa at midnight, soccer from Britain at 1 a.m., cricket from the West Indies at 2 a.m., tennis from Germany at 3 a.m., or golf from the United States at 4 a.m.

And except for the rare occasions when the Olympic Games are in a nearby time zone, as were the Seoul Games in 1988, Aussies are prepared to watch live coverage of an Olympiad at virtually any hour -- in the middle of the day or the middle of the night.

If the Australian network covering some future Olympics tried to deny viewers live coverage on the cockamamie pretext of time difference, there would likely be riots in the streets.

Nationalism or natural enthusiasm?

Australian athlete Cathy Freeman ignites the Olympic flame during the opening ceremony on September 15, celebrates after winning the gold medal in the 400-meter race and bottom, accepts her gold medal during the medal awards ceremony in Sydney on Monday.  

A few words about another issue which is becoming increasingly controversial in TV coverage of the Olympics -- nationalism.

Sydney news media report some complaints from visitors that Australian TV focuses too much on events involving Aussies -- its saturation coverage of Aboriginal runner Cathy Freeman winning the 400 meters, for example, versus its less extensive coverage the same night of American Michael Johnson's historic win in the men's 400 meters, and Ethiopian running great Haile Gebrselassie's awesome triumph in the 10,000 meters.

From the perspective of sporting history, this criticism has merit.

But the Olympic Games are more than just sport. For a complex mix of historical, cultural and sociological reasons, Australian TV's preoccupation with Freeman's feat was understandable.

Besides, isn't virtually every country's coverage of the Olympics designed for domestic consumption?

A young 'Aussie -- Oi!'

Perhaps the biggest surprise I have experienced reporting on the Sydney Games has been deeply personal.

I have seen a lot of young Aussies exuding enthusiasm for these Olympics. Kids garbed in the national colors of green and gold, their faces smeared in green and gold sun block, chanting what has become Australia's sporting mantra: "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie -- Oi, Oi, Oi."

When I see and hear them, my mind goes back to 1956, the last time the Olympics were staged in Australia, in Melbourne. And I am reminded of an equally enthusiastic 8-year-old in remote, rural Australia.

A kid who began a lifelong love affair with sports and broadcasting by intensely following those Games on the radio.

A kid who idolized the Aussie heroes of those Olympics, especially swimming legend Dawn Fraser.

I interviewed Dawn Fraser the other day. Although I had done so before, I had goose bumps and my knees knocked the whole time ... for I was that kid of 44 years ago.

  • Sydney 2000 Olympics 2000 Travel
  • City Guide - Sydney

International Olympic Committee
International Paralympic Committee
Sydney 2000 Olympic Games -- official site

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