This week marks the 15th anniversary of the Games of the XXVII Olympiad in Sydney, proclaimed by then-IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch as ‘the best Games ever’ when the festival of sport closed on October 1. Fifteen years later, the memories of Sydney 2000 still linger, almost like it was just yesterday.
Who could forget the extravaganza of the Opening Ceremony, created under the direction of David Atkins. Horses galloping onto the stadium floor, the two Koreas marching in during the Parade of Nations as a unified team, Human Nature and Julie Anthony providing arguably the best rendition of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ ever. We followed the spectacle of a young Nikki Webster navigating through the vast history of Australia. We had Olivia Newton John and John Farnham sing to athletes, both present and future, commanding them to “Dare To Dream”. The entire soundtrack of the Opening Ceremony is probably the best ever.
And then of course, the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron by an Aboriginal, Cathy Freeman, who stood in a pool of water as she magically gave us the defining moment of the evening, even if we were all holding our breath as the Cauldron was stuck for several minutes on its way to its final destination.
And then the competition. Where to begin. How about the showdown in the pool on night one, between the United States and Australia in the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay? When Gary Hall, Jr famously said that the American team would smash its rivals like guitars, only to be proven wrong on Australian soil.
ABC Grandstand: Remembering Sydney 2000
There was drama, that’s for sure. Sometimes even controversy. Like when the vault was set too low during the women’s all-around competition in artistic gymnastics. By the time that was fixed, the damage was already done to Russia’s Svetlana Khorkina, who ended up finishing tenth after her nerves were rattled and her night ruined on the vault.
There were upsets. LIke when the Norwegian women’s soccer team famously defeated the Americans in overtime, handing the U.S. its only loss in an Olympic gold medal game ever (Team USA went on to win three straight gold medals to add to the title won four years earlier in Atlanta). Or when the U.S. baseball team defeated an unbeaten Cuban squad.
The greatest night ever would be known as Magic Monday, when a collection of amazing athletic stories reached their climaxes within minutes of each other. Michael Johnson’s final individual gold medal in the 200 meters, an exciting back and forth competition in the first-ever women’s pole vault, and a frantic race to the finish in the men’s 10,000 meters. But the evening would be remembered for what’s still considered one of Australia’s greatest sporting moments. Cathy Freeman, days removed from lighting the Olympic cauldron as the final torchbearer, creating history again by winning the women’s 400 meter race to the delight of over 100,000 fans at Olympic Stadium.
Then there’s the moment that would be replayed over and over as what truly embodies the Olympic movement, simply taking part. Equatorial Guinea’s Eric Moussambani swimming alone, after two of his competitors false-started, in the first heat of the men’s 100 meter freestyle. He swam the slowest 100 meters in Olympic history, 1:52.72. But he did what many of us can’t say we’ve done, competed in an Olympics.
There was no shortage of memorable moments from these Olympics. Vince Carter’s monster dunk on the basketball court. The debut of a young swimmer by the name of Michael Phelps. And the farewell to a British rower who captured his fifth gold medal at his fifth consecutive Olympics.
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH (AUS): 15 Moments From The ‘Best Games Ever’
But one could argue that every Olympic Games provides incredible moments. What made these Games ‘the best ever’ was the context that they were held under. These were the dubbed the ‘Games of the New Millennium’. It’ll be a long time until an Olympics can use that slogan again.
They were the last Games that you could probably still watch Primetime coverage on 15-hour tape delay in the United States and still get away with it, as wide-spread use of the Internet and the age of Twitter and instant results were still years away.
More importantly, these were the last Olympics held in an age of innocence. Less than a year later, our world would change completely because of the terrorist attacks on September 11. Every Olympics after that would be held with tight security, sending host city budgets through the roof. The Olympics would always become a target, and lead-up coverage would always have security as a storyline.
The Games, particularly the Summer editions, haven’t been the same since. Athens would be known as the “wait ’til the last minute’ Games as organizers overspent as they rushed to get venues finished. In the end, those venues would become white elephants. Beijing and London were well-organized Games indeed. But China wanted to put on a show, using the Games to establish itself on the global stage. There wasn’t much of a political intent with holding the Sydney Olympics. The city just wanted to put on a party.
Compared to Sydney, London was just, well different. From the logo, to its odd mascot, to the unorthodox way of lighting the Cauldron, it’s ironic how a city so steeped in tradition didn’t really adhere to any when it came to the Olympics. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
But Sydney was truly the last Summer Olympics in an era of grand tradition and prestige. A true sport festival that was held in a city that simply wanted to host it and embrace it. For sixteen days, ‘G’Day Mate’ became the way we said hello. It was a feel-good party held in an exotic land. Australia is one of the greatest, if not, the greatest sporting countries on Earth. It’s no wonder why they were able to host what’s still ‘The Best Games Ever’.