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Friday, September 15, 2000

Sound the starter's gun!

A fabulous celebration of world athletic achievement begins


 SYDNEY - The Aborigines have danced. The fish have swum. The lawns have been mowed. The flowers have bloomed. The tin has been tapped.

 Olivia Newton John and John Farnham have sung together. The athletes have marched. The world's largest Olympic flag has been unfurled by the fans in the south stands.

 The oath has been spoken. The torch has been lit. The first kangaroo-less opening ceremonies in Australian international sports history is history. These Olympic Games have begun.

 The first of Canada's 311 athletes are in action. Carol Montgomery and Tanya Dubnicoff are going for glory today. And apparently we're already winners before these Games have begun.

 TWO GOLDS ALREADY

 "We've won two golds already,'' said Canada's chef de mission Diane Jones Konihowski.

 "We won as the friendliest nation here at the Games and in the village. We're very proud of that,'' she said adding the other 'gold' came in the category of recycling.

 Could we get recycling in the Toronto 2008 Olympics if we win the bid?

 Will the real medals follow fast and furious? Will Canada put somebody on the podium on the first day? Or will this be like Barcelona when Canada was dry through the first weekend and suddenly Montreal's Nicholas Gill surprised everyone with a bronze medal in judo just before midnight on Day 4.

 The international media did double takes as Canadians raced to the venue where nobody had been assigned to get to Gill before he came through dope testing.

 Will Canada's medal total drop, possibly dramatically, as most Team Sun scribes suggest? Will we be shut out in the pool? At the track?

 All those questions are about to be answered as the five-ring circus is under way on the fifth continent.

 But there are bigger questions.

 Will these Games avoid the Atlanta syndrome, or will Sydney 2000 soar like no Olympic Games before?

 "Sydney is ready,'' IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch declared at his 'Let the Games Begin' press conference.

 "The IOC is very much satisfied and confident that arrangements are in place for a very highly successful Games.

 "The enthusiasm of the people is outstanding. The weather should be fine. I have been assured by Sydney Olympics minister Michael Knight that transportation will not be a problem.

 "Sydney is very different from Atlanta. The look here is fantastic. But wait until Oct. 1 to know my impressions of the Games.''

 The most frigid Summer Olympics site a week ago, Sydney's weather had been spectacular the last two days before the opening ceremony.

 The transportation? That's been the biggest worry. Of the 101 major things Atlanta did wrong, transportation was their biggest foul-up.

 The answer will come this weekend. Can they put half a million people, most of them arriving by train at the same station, into position in time to catch all the action in the 15 sports at the most spectacular Olympic venues of all time?

 There have been transportation problems in the past week. But unlike Atlanta, where their problems couldn't be solved, Sydney's so far haven't been major. The Australians have shown a real can-do attitude without arrogance - again the opposite of Atlanta.

 With these facilities, this atmosphere, this spectacular setting and these people, Sydney has shown every evidence they'll be able to manage the sports event which is almost too big for anybody to manage any more.

 Loved Montreal, disliked L.A.

 I've covered 11 Olympics. In the summer, I loved Montreal and Seoul, liked Barcelona, disliked Los Angeles and absolutely detested Atlanta. In the winter I loved Lillehammer and Calgary, liked Sarajevo, thought Nagano was so-so and hated Albertville almost as much as I abhored Atlanta.

 With those Olympics as my point of reference, and believing disaster lurks again in Salt Lake City and Athens and beyond as the Olympics get too massive to manage, I think these Games have the potential to be the greatest some of us may experience in our lifetimes.