In closing, Olympics ceremony was an eye-opener

Monday, October 2nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

By Carolyn Thornton / The Providence Journal

SYDNEY, Australia -- If by some good fortune you ever have an opportunity to attend an Olympic Games, whether it be winter or summer, whatever you do, try to get to either the opening or closing ceremonies. Or if you're lucky, both.

The opening and closing ceremonies, more than any other events, truly capture the Olympic spirit.

This year's were both fantastic in their own way. The opening ceremonies, which featured the transformation of Olympic Stadium into some sort of huge marine aquarium, were downright spectacular. The closing ceremonies had the feel of a festive halftime show.

The men's marathon was the final event contested at the XVII Olympiad, finishing in Olympic Stadium.

After the medals had been presented to the runners, an announcement was made: "This marks the conclusion of Olympic competition."

They were words no one wanted to hear.

In a strange way, there was a certain sense of comfort seeing the lit torch lit above the stadium each morning as people made their way into Olympic Park. It was almost unsettling to see the flame being extinguished to signal the end of Sydney 2000.

Of course, there was no time to be melancholy last night, for the party had only just begun.

Everyone at the stadium found an "audience participation kit" at their seats. An "Aussie Party Esky" -- also known as a small cooler -- contained a few commemorative souvenirs, including an "Aussie BBQ fly swat," a mini disco ball keychain, a Closing Ceremony pin, a small flashlight and a pair of ear plugs. With everyone shining their lights upon the disco balls, the stadium sparkled like gold dust. A number of times, the crowd engaged in the traditional wave, which had an even more impressive effect when everyone lifted their coolers at the same time. Even those who detest the dreaded wave would have appreciated this one.

It felt like a flashback to the '70s and '80s as famous Australian singers and rock groups from past and present, such as Vanessa Amorosi, INXS and Midnight Oil, shared their greatest hits. They sang amidst ballroom dancers, stiltwalkers and various balloons in the shapes of crazy chickens, kangaroos, clouds and the sun.

The Parade of Icons was the most exciting part of the show. It started with Australian singer Kylie Minogue, who was brought out atop an enormous thong -- that's thong as in sandal -- as she sang "Dancing Queen."

Next to enter the stadium was Aussie golf legend Greg "The Shark" Norman, who emerged from -- what else -- a giant silvery shark. He even stopped periodically to hit golf balls -- hopefully plastic ones -- ff the shark's snout into the crowd.

Flashbulbs really started popping when Australian supermodel Elle McPherson came out next riding a large camera with a telescopic lens.

She was followed by Paul "Crocodile Dundee" Hogan, star of Australia's most successful movie in the nation's history. He came riding in atop a gigantic hat like the one he wore in the film.

Surrounded by crocs on rollerblades, prawns (shrimp) on bicycles, water buffalo on scooters and lizards on unicycles, Hogan hypnotized the animals so that they fell from their vehicles, then begin dancing to "Shout" by the Isley Brothers.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, along with a group of other drag queens, danced atop a large silver bus with a stiletto heel that served as Priscilla's seat.

All of the floats made their final lap of the stadium while Men At Work performed their '80s hit "Land Down Under."

Australian Slim Dusty engaged everyone in a rendition of "Waltzing Matilda," to close the show.

There were a few minutes of fireworks over the stadium, then those who stuck around could watch on huge video screens the amazing 20-minute pyrotechnic display being set off for the thousands upon thousands of people who filled every nook and cranny in Sydney Harbour. Part of the closing ceremonies involved the Olympic flag "handover." The Lord Mayor of Sydney entered the stadium with the flag, and passed it to International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch, who then passed it on to the Lord Mayor of Athens, site of the next Summer Games.

A Head Priestesse and 21 priestesses performed a ceremonial ritual to prepare the flag for its trip to Athens.

"These are my last Games as IOC President," said the 80-year-old Samaranch, who has served for 20 years in that position. "They could not have been better. Therefore, I am proud and happy to proclaim that you have presented to the world the best Olympic Games ever.

"I now declare the Games of the 27th Olympiad in Sydney closed, and, in accordance with our tradition, I call upon the youth of the world to assemble, four years from now, in Athens, Greece, birthplace of Olympism, to celebrate with us, the Games of the 28th Olympiad."

No doubt a few seeds have already been planted, and a new crop of Olympic hopefuls are preparing to pursue new dreams of gold, silver and bronze.