Olympics Brought Out Aussies' Best
Monday, October 2nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
SYDNEY, Australia (AP) â€” Sydneysiders watched their beloved bridge spit red fire, as it foamed gold into the harbor below. Then, in a final blaze of luminous glory, the five Olympic rings exploded to blackness.
``Bring back the rings,'' screamed Malena Cordera, a law clerk who watched in rapt amazement Sunday night with a more than a million others. ``I miss them already.''
Across the water, real estate mogul Peter Kampfer beamed with pride when Juan Antonio Samaranch pronounced Sydney 2000 the ``best games ever.'' This time, he knew, the venerable Olympics czar was not exaggerating.
``I'm speechless,'' said Kampfer, who is usually not. ``In my wildest dreams I did not expect everything to go so well. People will go home, and they will remember us.''
After seven years of preparation, Aussies had dazzled, charmed and â€” if medals are counted on a per capita basis â€” conquered a world that too often forgets about them.
``G'day,'' the introductory cliche, is widely replaced by the congratulatory: ``Good on ya.''
Tom and Louisa Shields, on a backpack honeymoon from San Francisco, came away as committed Oz lovers. ``We were really impressed, with everything,'' Tom said. ``The people, the transport, the whole thing.''
And the final flourish, an orgy of pyrotechnics that seemed to light up half the Southern Hemisphere, elevated them to gush mode.
``My God, you didn't know where to look,'' Louisa said. ``Firework came from overhead, from the sides, from the tops of buildings.''
She forgot to mention the streak of flame 1,000 feet up as an F-111 fighter bomber buzzed the harbor bridge trailing ignited fuel.
With every outsider's accolade, Australians seemed to lose more of the condition known here as ``cultural cringe,'' a collective anxiety about what everyone else thinks about them.
``Australians now realize how good they can be, and this will inspire us in other areas,'' said Paul Vlagsma, a University of Sydney engineer. ``As far as I'm concerned, the Olympics can go on forever.''
But the games ended Sunday night, and newspaper headlines predicted psychologists would be overwhelmed with cases of post-rings letdown.
Traffic, miraculously free-flowing during the Olympics because so many Sydneysiders left town, will go back to its habitual snarl. Bar talk will be deprived of the butt of so many jokes: the Sydney organizing committee.
The games seemed to bring out the Aussies' best. Praise was heaped upon 47,000 volunteers who shepherded visitors, hauled supplies, solved problems and, essentially, made the games happen.
Wry, irreverent wit pervaded the Aussie-style Olympics, making believers of the most cynical.
Each night at 11, Australia watched ``The Dream,'' a sort of adults-only ``Sports Night'' with two commentators, Roy and HG, who reported on the day's action.
Their furry stuffed animal, Fatso the Wombat, eclipsed the three official cuddly mascots. Fatso was auctioned off for $40,000.
After being turned away from the U.S. team's party venue, they gibed at Yankee unfriendliness. In references to past games, they say ``toilet'' for Atlanta. New slang for visiting the men's room is ``going to Atlanta.''
Beneath the surface, there was bitterness and dispute. Ric Birch, who directed the smash-hit opening ceremony and the closing, announced he was moving to California with his American wife.
In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, he excoriated politicians who organized the games. As he was designing a show about tolerance and understanding, Birch said, officials tried to fire him.
``Enough things about Australia make me uneasy. ... I actually prefer to live in America,'' he said. ``There's something about Australians, or in particular Sydney, but there is no such thing as agreeing to disagree. It's boots and all. You're trained to kill.''
Richard Brown, a Sydney history teacher who is leery of hype, laughed about a sign posted at his school. It shows smiling faces and reads: ``Keep taking your medication. Our Olympic visitors must suspect nothing.''
On the 36th floor of Grosvenor Place, however, Steve Marando had only positive thoughts about his city's Olympics.
``When I saw reaction to the opening ceremony, I knew we'd done it,'' he said. ``You could walk through the streets and feel the spirit. Before, everyone knocked the Olympics. Since they began, not one negative remark.''
Marando, a law firm caterer who also owns a housewares business, said he was convinced Sydney had created a lasting impression which would bring foreigners to Australia in growing numbers.
``It's in our nature to do these things well,'' he said. ``It's that extra 2 to 3 percent we add that makes all the difference.''
When the harbor burst into color and flame, Maranda ooohed and aaahed with the rest. Afterward, when people repeated the word, ``fantastic,'' he searched for a better word.
``It was so amazing,'' he said. Still unsatisfied, he added: ``So Australian.''