Al-Ahram Weekly On-line   Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
5 - 11 October 2000
Issue No. 502
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Over with a spectacular bang

The Olympic Games ended with a bang on Sunday as a fighter bomber set the night sky ablaze with a plume of flame and a spectacular cascade of fireworks lit up Sydney Harbour Bridge.

At least one million people packed the harbourside for what was hailed as one of the biggest pyrotechnic extravaganzas the world has ever seen.

Celebrations downtown followed the Olympic closing party at Stadium Australia, where 110,000 spectators and thousands of athletes felt the heat as an F-111 fighter bomber flew over, trailing a 30-metre ribbon of flame.

The bridge, one of Australia's most potent icons, was the centrepiece of a $1.7 million fireworks display that put in the shade the New Year celebrations which heralded the start of a new millennium.

Sydney brought in fireworks experts from five continents to give the five Olympic rings on the bridge a breathtaking send-off.

The two parties at Olympic Park and by the harbour were linked by a "river of lightning" that illuminated the Paramatta River.

High above the ground and dwarfed by the Olympic cauldron, Webster sings We'll Be One
It was a breathtaking climax for a fun-loving city that has revelled in the most successful Olympics ever staged.

"I am proud and happy to proclaim that you have presented to the world the best Olympic Games ever," Olympic chief Juan Antonio Samaranch, presiding over his last Games after 20 years at the helm, declared to a sports-mad Australia fiercely proud of what it had achieved.

"To you, all the people of Sydney and Australia, we say: These have been your Games," said Samaranch, whose Olympics were tinged with tragedy when his wife died as he was flying home to Spain to be at her bedside.

Sydney's success helped redeem the tarnished image of an International Olympic Committee (IOC) still smarting from the cronyism and corruption exposed in the bidding for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

Doping sullied the sporting spectacular with seven athletes testing positive for drugs in competition. But the IOC hailed their exposure as a new "zero tolerance" attitude to cheats.

In Stadium Australia, war, politics and the divisions of nations were forgotten as they had been at so many Olympics since Melbourne in 1956 when athletes first streamed together into the closing ceremony rather than as national teams.

The athletes, letting their hair down after the rigours of competition, poured into the arena from every corner for the biggest backyard party in the history of Australia.

They were treated to a show of Australian icons from pop star Kylie Minogue and golfer Greg Norman to drag queens in all their finery and a country and a western singalong of the country's unofficial anthem Waltzing Matilda.

The Games have helped to heal old wounds in a young nation and to forge a cohesive identity out of an Australian melting pot of immigrants from all across the globe.

Aborigine sprinter Cathy Freeman, a potent symbol of Australia's disadvantaged minority, lit the Olympic cauldron at the start of the Games and then ignited the nation with an electric triumph in the women's 400 metres.

Frank Sartor, mayor of a city that has partied round the clock since the Games began, handed over the five-ring Olympic flag to Mayor Dimitri Avramopoulos of Athens where the Summer Olympics move in 2004.

Sydney will be a hard act to follow after unprecedented ticket sales, television broadcasts to a record 220 countries and a glitch-free Games that unfolded as smoothly as organisers had ever dared to dream. With competition over and thousands of Games-time visitors preparing to leave Sydney and resume normal lives, it was truly a night to party.

At the end of the men's marathon, only one event remained -- the closing ceremony. Involving thousands of performers, this five-and-a-half hour spectacular was a stunning snapshot of the Olympic city at its most glamorous.

Before the party began, there were some Olympic traditions to be observed. First, the athletes of the 27th Olympiad poured into the arena, adding their own enormous energy to the already buzzing Olympics.

Following a round of speeches from dignitaries including Samaranch and Sydney Olympics minister Michael Knight, the mantle was officially passed to Athens in an Olympic flag handover ceremony. Top Australian musical acts including Savage Garden and Christine Anu performed during this opening segment.

In a regal atmosphere complete with blaring trumpets, Sydney's time as the Olympic city came to an end. After two weeks of sporting excellence, the Olympic flag was lowered and the magnificent cauldron extinguished.

Before the sacred light flickered out, the star of the opening ceremony, 13-year-old Nikki Webster, returned to the spotlight. Accompanied by more than 200 young choristers, Webster sang a specially composed song We'll Be One to rapturous applause.

The instant the flame went out, an F-111 RAAF aircraft roared over the crowd. A short fireworks display signalled that the closing party would now get under way.

For almost an hour, the crowd was treated to a smorgasbord of Australian musical legends. First on the agenda was young star Vanessa Amorosi, whose song Shine has featured throughout the Games. With her was a stilt walker decked out as a Hills Hoist, the umbrella-shaped clothesline common to almost every Australian backyard.

Next, swarms of mirror balls appeared high above the athletes in the middle of the stadium. Twelve ballroom dancing stars performed a spectacular routine as '70s rock legend John Paul Young sang Love is in the Air. In a tribute to the hit film Strictly Ballroom, 1,000 dancers flooded the arena in sparkling costume.

To the duelling guitars of Tommy and Phil Emmanuel, the dancers were then literally chased out of the stadium by 12 giant Mombassas. For the uninitiated, Reg Mombassa is a legendary Australian musician whose designs adorn the Mambo clothing brand.

Mombassa's inflatable creatures included the Beer Monster (a beer-swilling Australian tourist) and Frankenstein's Kangaroo, which represented the dark side of the country's national symbol.

A particular crowd favourite was the McKangaroo, which floated over the crowd carrying the Sydney Harbour Bridge in one hand and a fighter plane in the other. Also among the absurdist images was an angry businessman and an Australian Jesus, representing "all the good things about Christian tradition," according to Mombassa.

Amid the Mombassa-inspired madness, a host of top Australian musicians hit the stage. The quintessential '80s pub-rock band, INXS, led the charge. With former Noiseworks singer Jon Stevens at the mike, they performed their huge hit The Pub Anthem. The atmosphere continued with an appearance by former Cold Chisel vocalist Jimmy Barnes. The Scottish-born singer can lay claim to 40 hit singles, the biggest of which, Working Class Man, he performed on the night.

Other heroes highlighted the importance of the drive toward reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. Aboriginal rock band Yothu Yindi performed their hit Treaty, a plea for unity. Midnight Oil, always at the forefront of this issue, roused the crowd further with Beds are Burning.

(Compiled from wire services)

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