I'm not sure what happened to Australia during October
2000. SOCOG had
desperately been trying to arouse some sort of interest in the general
public for the Olympics, with little success, right up to September, then
suddenly the country went mad. Sydney-siders, who had been loudly
proclaiming that they would be leaving the city the moment the Olympic torch
touched Sydney's outskirts, were suddenly out on the sidewalks, cheering the
torch bearers until they were hoarse. Australian flags started appearing
out of high-rise flats, flapping proudly in the wind. Parties were being
hastily planned all around the nation for the Opening Ceremony (among those
who hadn't got in quick enough in the last minute rush for tickets and
airfares or, in most cases, couldn't afford them). People who had no
interest in sport whatsoever, were suddenly discussing Ian Thorpe's chances
at winning Gold in the pub. And Melbournians (of which I am one), who had
been gloating about not having to be in the thick of things, along with all
the tourists and transport problems and hype, were suddenly hankering to get
over the border as fast as possible to be a part of it all.
Australia had re-discovered its national pride.
All the ads on television proudly proclaimed being
Australian, from beer to barbeques to baby products. "I ride in the front seat of a
taxi, I don't wrestle crocodiles, I believe that world is round and Australia is on top."
Gems like this paraphrased snippet from an ad for an Australian beer,
actually had people getting emotional. (hell, I admit it I actually
sobbed after my first viewing of it!)
Australians had suddenly realized that they were
a nation. That we had an identity. That, after years of debate in the media and lengthy
dinner party discussions, we didn't need to search for our sense of nationality
it had always been there. And it hit us in October with a fervor not seen since
the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.
Interesting to note that, no?
My mother was a member of the Australian Olympic
team in 1956. She was just 18, and competed in the shot put. She was all of five foot
two inches tall and weighed about eight stone. I think she probably holds the record for
being the smallest shot-putter in Olympic history. As a result of her
competition in the Games (and her ongoing involvement in the Olympic
movement), I have always been surrounded by Olympians and heard stories
about how the Games bring their own magic to the city that hosted them.
And, of course, I never really understood what that meant. I got a taste of
it when Mum ran with the torch in August, followed by her round of media
interviews, but it still seemed that I was living vicariously through her
experience of the Games. Until Sydney. Suddenly it was tangible. Real. I
could see and feel what it meant to share the Olympic spirit first-hand.
And the by-product of emotion it produced in the host nation.
Despite any IOC scandals, or allegations of athletes'
drug-taking, or the problems that SOCOG were routinely ridiculed about in the local
press, the Games themselves rose above all that, and for three weeks, Australians
opened our arms and our hearts to the athletes of the world, and to each other.
Of course, there were some who weren't affected like
this, but they were in the minority. Even my most cynical of friends who weren't
interested in the Games before October (living in both Sydney and Melbourne) were suddenly
planning a way to be part of it. And I was no exception.
Needless to say, I ended up in Sydney for the Closing
Ceremony. I spent it at the Olympians Reunion Center in Circular Quay with my mother.
And I felt very privileged to be able to be part of an Olympics in my own country,
watching the Closing Ceremony on a big screen above the Quay, and seeing the
fireworks live over the Harbour in front of us. Standing with Olympians who
already knew the feeling that the rest of Australia was experiencing a
sense of pride in their county and in themselves, through the greater spirit
and ideal of the Olympics. Holding our heads high and being the best we can
be. And that is what the Olympic Games are truly about.
As one very well-known US sportswear company's
advertising campaign so aptly put it: "Celebrate Humanity."
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