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Sunday, October 1, 2000

Over the top Down Under

Good on ya, mate! Best Games ever - really

 SYDNEY - See ya Syd. Good on ya, mate. You were great.

 Words like those are being printed around the world today. And the world said the other two words together with Juan Antonio Samaranch last night, the words he refused to say in Atlanta. Best ever.

 "Seven years ago I said, 'And the winner is ... Sydney. Well, what can I say now? Maybe with my Spanish accent: Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!''

 To which 110,000 people responded: "Oi! Oi! Oi!''

 "Well done,'' said Samaranch.

 "To you, all the people of Sydney and Australia, we say: 'These have been your Games.'

 "These are my last Games as IOC president. 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!''

 Thumbing his nose

 Samaranch did everything but turn north and thumb his nose at "remarkable'' Atlanta.

 "Thank you, Sydney. Thank you, New South Wales. Thank you, Australia. You made it.''

 Richard Pound, the Canadian IOC member who many believe will be Samaranch's successor, put it another way.

 "Sydney gets 10 out of 10,'' he said.

 Who is to argue?

 Of the 11 Olympics I've covered, this one beat them all every which way to the final Sunday.

 It was the best-organized. It featured the best facilities. Despite dire predictions, neither the weather nor the transportation were terrible. And in the end, it was the people who made these the greatest Games ever.

 Never has there been a volunteer corps like the one they had here. Volunteer or average Aussie, visitors were embraced.

 It was the absolute antidote for Atlanta, the Olympics From Hell. And with Athens, the Olympics From Hell II on deck, at least we'll have had Sydney, the Olympics it may take the rest of the millennium to meet or beat.

 The XXVII Olympics opened with the most marvellous opening ceremonies I've ever witnessed and no Games has ever closed like this either.

 Like a lot of things, they chose to do it differently here. And different was delightful.

 It was at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne where the closing ceremonies were introduced as an informal and exuberant celebration.

 Here they basically decided to say, the heck with it, let's party.

 Parading all the athletes onto the field at the beginning instead of at the end, they were there to wave their flags enthusiastically when Samaranch said the words 'best ever' instead of the word "remarkable'' and there to dance around in tonga lines while the show surrounded them on the track and on the stages.

 Opening ceremonies star Nikki Watson sang and performed 'We'll Be One' from the top of the stadium, rising to be with the Olympic flame for the final flicker. At that instant an F-111 RAAF aircrafted roared over the stadium, only 500 feet over the cauldron, symbolically carrying the Olympic flame away.

 And then the party began with performances by groups such as Midnight Oil.

 As the athletes continued to dance on the infield they were presented with Australia's 'Parade Of Icons.'

 Kylie Minogue was featured as the 'Dancing Queen' in a Bondi Beach set involving 100 lifesavers.

 Then came The Great White Shark.

 You got it.

 Greg Norman.

 He appeared out of the top of a shark and hit plastic golf balls into the media tribune.

 Next in the parade, a large camera with a telescopic lens entered the stadium and supermodel Elle 'The Body' McPherson did what she does best, which is pose and show off her form.

 She was followed by actor Paul Hogan on the top of a giant Crocodile Dundee hat. He did nothing much but wave. But everybody was waving back.

 He was followed by Bananas In Pyjamas, a set based on an Australian TV series for two-to six-year-olds.

 Sixty drag queens

 They were followed, for some reason I wish I could explain, by 60 drag queens.

 It all ended with Slim Dusty singing Waltzing Matilda as 110,000 spectators and a several thousand athletes sang along with him.

 As good as it was in the stadium, the finale made you want to be somewhere else.

 As fireworks filled the air over Olympic Stadium, the athletes and spectators watched, on the big screens, fireworks exploding from the Harbour Bridge where the five Olympic rings have been a photo-op since the Games began.

 It's not only safe to say that no Olympic Games have ever been this great before, but no Olympic Games have ever ended this great before either.