Sydney Olympics + 20 Years

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This month is the 20th Anniversary of the Sydney 2000 Olympics and memories have cropped up online. As a participant, I also have a lot of memories, many of which have resurfaced as I have been prompted by stories and photos that cross my path.

As a kid I fell in love with the Olympics in 1976. Even as a nine year old, I suffered through Australia’s disastrous performance without really knowing what it meant. In 1980, I was most definitely pro participating and rejoiced that we managed to get one gold medal. By 1984 there was not wall to wall television coverage, but close enough that we could see volleyball live. Even the commentator who described Karch Keely’s great smashes could not diminish our pleasure. Throughout that period, the Olympics was primarily the premier sporting competition in the world, although the seeds had been sown that would change it into the greatest sporting event in the world, which turns out to be something completely different (and much less interesting, but that’s another story).

By the time 2000 came around, my feelings about the Olympics were still related to the competition part. My Olympic goal was to compete for a medal. Much of the rest of it was of little interest to me, not least because by then I had read Lords of the Rings. I do have quite a few memories of those 2000 Games. In no particular order.

The food was incredible. And despite the quality and variety of it, I still ate about 20 McNuggets every day.

I didn’t stay in the village, a fact that I have never regretted for a single day either before, during or after the event. A few of us stayed in a student residence about 15 minutes drive from the village. There were never more than a couple of people there at a time and the walls were lined with cartons of VB and Jacobs Creek wine. Relaxing with a glass of something, while watching The Dream was better than the chaos of the village.

My favourite The Dream bit.

Mark Philippoussis telling me how cool Eric the Eel was. He was wrong. It was a travesty.

I was glad I went to the Opening Ceremony. But only to say that I had been. It wasn’t fun. Especially as it was glaringly obvious as I scanned the crowd that not one person there would have been interested in me if I spontaneously combusted. Except my parents of course, but they were too far away to have recognised it was me.

The Closing Ceremony was way more fun.

Beating Spain to give ourselves chance to qualify for the quarter finals (we still had to beat Egypt to make it official) was a weird feeling. I studied Spain for twelve months before the Games and I knew we were better. It kind of bugged me that so many people were surprised we won, even as I was proud when Andrea Zorzi went out of his way to congratulate me on the team’s performance. Hearing that Spanish star Rafael Pascal smashed up the changerooms after the match was my second biggest highlight of the Games, even if I didn’t see it in person.

The whole Olympic experience was tiring and stressful. As I lived it, I didn’t really enjoy it. I was far too caught up in trying to win matches (and mostly failing at that ). At the end there was a sense of the end of a journey but not much else. Not long afterwards, we had an official group debrief and the question went around the room ‘What was your highlight of the Olympics?’ As the first six people answered, I honestly couldn’t think of anything that I would term a highlight. And then it dawned on me.

At the second technical timeout in third set of the quarter final, there was a moment after the whistle had been blown but before the players reached the bench. In that moment, I Iooked up the scoreboard and saw Australia – Italy, 1-1, 14-16. As I saw that score I got goosebumps all over and thought, ever so fleetingly, that we had a chance to make the Olympic Semi Finals. That feeling lasted for about three minutes before Andrea Sartoretti got into a rhythm with his serve and it was over fast. But as they say, I will always have that moment.

My third biggest highlight was in the series of events that followed the Olympics there was a dinner at Parliament House. I don’t remember a thing about that. But afterwards many people wandered into Civic to carry on (or begin) the festivities at a popular bar. It was there, not long after midnight, that David Campbell (son of Jimmy Barnes, and arguably a better singer) climbed onto the bar and led a contingent of Australians in singalong of Khe Sanh. That was pretty cool.

Today is 20 years to the day of the game against Italy.

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