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Sunday, September 10, 2000

Our man Down Under takes the temperature of a very, very hot town

 SYDNEY - Welcome to the Sydney Olympic Winter Games.

 It was freezing Thursday and Friday. People were wearing parkas. Then again, yesterday was gorgeous. The locals were wearing short sleeves.

 Spring in Australia is like that.

 If Sydney gets 16 days of yesterday's weather and if half a million people aren't stranded by the transportation system trying to reach the most amazing venues the world may ever see, the XXVII Olympics Games are going to be warm and wonderful.

 Coming off the shabbiest show in the modern era of the biggest show in sport - the Atlanta Olympics, which Juan Antonio Samaranch used the well-chosen word "remarkable'' to condemn at the closing ceremonies - Sydney is going to wow the world in almost every area.

 One of the most beautiful cities on the planet, Sydney is going to be drop-dead gorgeous to welcome the world.

 The famed Opera House will be the backdrop to most telecasts. CBC has created a studio at a school house in possibly the most perfect position for using the sails of the Opera House as a set. And the sails will be like a canvas for a coloured light show which is guaranteed to dazzle.

 The entire skyline will become a light show itself, with buildings bathed in coloured lighting and 54 searchlights creating a show in the sky from the rooftops of 17 highrise buildings. It'll all be so spectacular TV producers are going to be constantly asking themselves if they really want to cut away to wrestling or taekwondo.

 And when it comes to welcoming the world, no worries, mate. Australians may be the best-met people on the planet.

 "Everybody here has a friendly can-do attitude,'' says Dina Bell-Laroche of the Canadian Olympic Association who understands that taking the temperature of the town doesn't really require a thermometer.

 "We're halfway around the world and it feels like we're at home,'' she says. "And Australians just love Canadians.''

 Indeed, says Canada's chef de mission Diane Jones Konihowski.

 FRIENDLY PEOPLE, FABULOUS VENUES

 "The temperature gauge is the athletes. Our athletes are finding the volunteers unbelievably friendly, the venues just fabulous and we've been happy with everything we've experienced here so far. We're Canadians. We're used to this weather. And it's going to get a lot warmer. The bottom line is our athletes love it here..''

 While a bit of a hike from downtown Sydney, it's a stunning site where 15 of the 28 Olympics sports, as well as both opening and closing ceremonies, will be held.

 Then there are the other sports. Like the controversial beach volleyball venue at famed Bondi Beach where the topless sunbathers have been given the boot and a temporary stadium has been built.

 SYDNEY HARBOUR NOT JUST A BACKDROP

 Sydney Harbour itself will not just be a backdrop but an actual Olympic venue - probably the most gorgeous Olympic venue of all time.

 Also, the first-ever triathlon event will start on the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House. Next year the world triathlon will be held in Edmonton at Hawrelak Park in the River Valley with the skyline of Gotham On The North Saskatchewan as a backdrop. Sorry. No contest.

 Surely there will be problems. Every Olympics has them. But you have to admit, these Aussies have gone a long way to try to anticipate them.

 Probably the best example are the toilets.

 At Homebush they took 10,000 volunteers and stationed each of them at a toilet. At the sound of a siren, they each flushed at the same time. No problems.

 The ultimate test will come with the first weekend of the Olympics. Atlanta failed beyond belief in many areas, but failed most spectacularly in transportation.

 That's the biggest worry here.

 Putting 15 of the 28 venues in one place makes for an amazing legacy for a city of four million people which previously had sports facilities which were second-rate and couldn't come close to comparing to those in Edmonton or Calgary.

 But on the weekends more than half a million people will be there. Or trying to get there. Most of them will come by trains.

 Trains don't always run smoothly here. They have some sort of world record for derailments. The Olympic line was shut down for five hours the other day. And when you talk to the locals, they have worries, mate - major, major worries. One bomb threat could shut down the place.

 Half a million people coming and going, the vast majority by train. We'll have to see it to believe it.

 Still, there's no doubt these wizards of Auz are going to give the world a spectacular show.

 If the transportation works and Sydney gets the weather, Samaranch won't call them "remarkable'' but "the best ever.'' Guaranteed.