Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sydney Olympics: 10 years, 10 memories

It's 10 years since the Sydney Olympic Games opened. I thought I'd try to do a list of 10 'memories' - that is without resorting to my favourite crutch, Google.

10. Where's your head at?
At the time I was living in Annandale, NSW and my son was 18 months old. I was deputy sports editor at the Sun-Herald, which meant I had a middling important editing job on the Fairfax Olympics desk in Sussex Street. A very strange gig. Having been to the two previous editions as (primarily) a track and field writer with AAP, I was used to working in the stadiums and with a narrow focus. This was a lot different, big picture editing - going to work in your usual workplace, and having days off, which never happened while working for AAP overseas.

9. That Melbourne-Sydney thing.
The Age newspaper came to town and that whole Alpha male nonsense started to happen on the desk straight away. In those times, and I can only assume still, the prevailing wisdom was that if you worked for the "other" paper you couldn't write/ edit/ be trusted. Each paper had their rounds people and each editing staff pretended to have absolute faith in their own. Anything filed by the other paper's reporter was rubbish, at best, "take in AAP" at worst. Caroline Wilson? Never heard of her. Peter FitzSimons? Is that English he's writing?

8. Getting tickets was a pain
Having previously wandered around the Olympics with an all access pass and without family members, I found the whole ticket ballot issue confusing. Surely this wouldn't sell out? We did enter the ballot and got nothing. I remember the stories blowing up in Games Minister Michael Knight's face and the promise of more tix being made available from the premium pool. I remember thinking "yeah, right" but then in the redraw we got Cathy Freeman tickets. Love ya, Mike.

7. The hierarchy at play
Being an editor, I was entitled to some free tickets through Fairfax. These were handed out by someone's PA who was following a strict hierarchy. The big guys got the good stuff, and I got the baseball. Imagine my surprise when I scored two tickets to the Ian Thorpe v Pieter Van Whatsit 200m final. My wife was pumped, but I got gazumped by a phone call on the afternoon. "Ah, I have to reassign those tickets, I can offer you the gymnastics gala instead."  I wasn't that bothered, but we had a babysitter so she made me find scalper tickets. I have never told anyone else but her this: We paid $1000 for two tickets to watch Ian Thorpe lose a swimming race. $1150 if you count the babysitter and the beer I was crying in.

6. Eric the Eel
We got swimming heats in the ballot. The seats were way back in that temporary stand and the pool was a long ways away so I couldn't be sure. "Is that guy drowning?" I asked my wife. "Should I go help?"
It was, of course, before twitter (OMG. Most. Hilarious. Swim. Ever. LOL). And I can't recall having text on the phone I lugged around in a large backpack. I recall sitting there, in that way of a journalist, thinking "Shit, what a story, I wonder if the Fairfax guys have seen this." I took out binoculars and saw Mike Cowley across the pool head down typing away! He's missed it! I have to get to him!  When Eric stopped at every TV crew, I took a deep breath and went back to sleep.

5. This is going to be a disaster
The Olympics bring a whole shit storm of negative publicity. I'd quit my previous job because of it. The internet age meant that Australian newspapers were put up online sometime around 2-3am which in the long year before the Games meant I was getting 2-3 calls a week from the imbecile AP Olympics editor, based in New York. "The Daily Telegraph is running a front page report that an IOC official got off a plane at 3pm and couldn't get a taxi. He finally flagged one down and the driver said he could only drop him at Stanmore." You couldn't make up the drivel that the Sydney papers  with their designated Olympics writers passed off as news. And it was all negative.

4. The greatest Games, ever
It really was. Four years earlier we had the worst, in Atlanta. A dump of a town, an angry populace, a searing climate. Sydney was perfect. The weather, the parties in the streets, the fireworks, Marie Jose-Perec's dummy spit. Every little thing worked. Germany 2006 reminded me of it, but nothing else has come close.

3. The beach volleyball
I never went. But my wife did with four girlfriends and they descended on us in Martin Place while we were trying to watch the big screen at the live site. Five of them, having been drinking all day in the sun, flopping on the paving stones among the disdainful suits from the nearby banks. The 18-month old looking at his mum and his 'aunties' like they had been possessed. Mayhem.

2. Fairweather fans
The Sydney-Melbourne hostilities ceased for a glorious hour or so as South Asurtalia's Simon Fairweather won our country's only archery gold medal.  It was like that story of the German and English troops pausing on Christmas for a game of football, before resuming their bloodshed. As soon as the anthem was over, it all started up again. I can't remember who filed on it, but I'm certain the Sydney reporter's copy was superior.

1. Cathy
I met Cathy Freeman when I was covering schools athletics, and spent a decent amount of time sitting next her in the stands during the 1990 Com Games. Always shy, always sweet. Where that 400m performance came from, under that immense pressure, I'll never understand. A memory as strong as any other: Us above the 300m mark, her rounding the bend for home, a wall of noise carrying her to the line and then her body gives way.  

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