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  • The Opinionist: Olympic Movement Celebrates Sydney's 'Once & Future' Olympic Games


    The Sydney Olympic Games is regarded as one of the best organised and most exciting sporting events of modern times. MICHAEL PIRRIE, a media adviser with the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games provides an insider’s view of the Games, and speaks to IOC Olympic Games Executive Director CHRISTOPHE DUBI about Sydney’s success and influence on planning of future Games.

    Sydney 2000 Opening Ceremony (ASNOC)
    Twenty years ago Australia was staging the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympic Games. It began with an innovative and joyful Opening Ceremony that would set the stage for the Games, which has since come to be considered the best sporting event ever staged.

    Ric Birch's opening had the world at ‘G’day’. Pioneering aerial choreography, flying performers and dramatic lighting transformed the stadium into the world’s biggest live theatre production, as an Aboriginal elder accompanied by a local schoolgirl led audience on a journey of reconciliation.

    The late IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch declared Birch's uplifting ceremony the most beautiful and the Sydney Games the best ever, a view many shared.

    The influential London Times also agreed and said: “I invite you to suggest a more successful event anywhere in the peacetime history of mankind.”

    Rarely has a sporting event had such an impact.


    While the Olympic Games produced great sport, Sydney produced a great party. Unsuspecting observers might have pondered whether Australia’s water supplies had been spiked with a mysterious Olympic euphoria-inducing substance.

    “What is really important to me was the spirit of the Games in Sydney,” Christophe Dubi, the IOC Olympic Games Executive Director, told me.

    “The party atmosphere, the multiple Live sites throughout the city which was really bringing the Games to the people,” he said.

    They partied at Live sites; on Central Station platforms; at Circular Quay ferry terminals; and in Darling Harbour bars.

    No one wanted to leave and no one wanted to go home.

    “For me, Sydney is really the first time the Games were brought to the people, out in the streets for them to enjoy and party,” Dubi said.


    The Olympic Rings on the Sydney Harbour Bridge (Public Domain)
    Like the athletes, organizers also had dreams.

    We looked to the heavens as a US shuttle carried the Olympic torch to the International Space Station, praying the torch would survive lift off.

    Back on earth, Sydney was dressed to party. A giant installation of the Olympic rings on the Harbour Bridge was a constant reminder. It was the first time Olympic symbols had been attached to a host city monument.

    The Games captured the imagination of the world and sparked the biggest contest ever among major cities to host the Games. The bid cycle that followed Sydney included London, Paris, New York, Moscow, Madrid, Rio, and others -- all hoping to emulate Sydney’s success.


    Sydney 2000 cauldron (ATR)
    Sydney produced a new template for the Games.

    The new venue model enhanced the Games experience for athletes, officials, spectators, and broadcasters. It also formed the basis of the inaugural Transfer of Knowledge program, now essential for organizing and bid committees.

    “So for the organization, the way we approach it with the various sequences and the overarching structure of Games organization is still based on Sydney,” Olympic Games Executive Director Dubi told ATR. “It was a complete philosophical and managerial change.”

    This publication (Around the Rings) founded by Ed and Sheila Hula was also developed during the Sydney Games, and was compulsory reading for Sydney organizers as it has become for the wider Olympic world.


    The attention to detail by Australian Olympic Committee president and Games ringmaster, John Coates, on conditions for athletes was fundamental to Sydney’s success.

    His focus on transport, competition, training, and accommodation facilities enabled the world’s best athletes to perform at their peak.

    Crowds at Martin Place live site watching Cathy Freeman go for gold in the 400m. (City of Sydney)
    In return, athletes produced a plethora of world and Olympic records and iconic sporting moments.

    Sydney 2000 was Catherine Freeman’s destiny. When the Aboriginal athlete won the 400-meters, all of Australia also won.

    “For me it was a dream come true; a dream that I had carried with me since I was a little girl,” Freeman said.

    Another ‘moment’ was Ethiopian legend Haile Gebrselaisse's 10,000-meter victory, when he sprinted to the finish line after 25 grueling laps around the track to win by less than a second.

    His victory came on Magic Monday. It is considered by many to have been the best night of competition in Olympic history – in front of almost 110,000 spectators, it was also the biggest Olympic Games crowd.


    We also had help from a lot of friends along the way.

    These included the Hollywood actor Geena Davis, who helped publicize archery, an unfamiliar sport in Australia.

    Davis almost qualified for the US Olympic archery team, and was in a league of her own. She gave archery its biggest profile since Robin Hood.


    Michael Pirrie
    Sydney’s party atmosphere created a new sports and entertainment experience and model for the Olympic movement.

    Venues were designed as high performing entertainment centers for sport with relevant services and conditions for athletes, spectators, broadcasters, officials, and support teams.

    The Sydney Games also had great humanity, which pointed to possibilities for progress in the wider world -- North and South Korea delegations united behind the Olympic flag, and the bravery of East Timor athletes who emerged from a deadly civil war to proudly represent their devastated nation.

    Elsewhere you could find the late Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, and silver medalist Peter Norman, made famous in the 1968 Mexico Games Black Power salute by John Carlos and Tommie Smith.

    All dreamed of equality and peace and believed that Olympic values mattered.

    In a world so broken by the corona virus pandemic, the achievements and symbols of hope and progress from the Sydney Olympic Games are needed now more than ever.

    Michael Pirrie is an international media and communications advisor and commentator on major events. He was media adviser with the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, and led the global media campaign for the successful London 2012 Olympic Games Bid against New York, Paris, Moscow, and Madrid.

    Homepage photo: ATR

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