Totally Aus-some opener
SYDNEY - Good on ya, mate. That was great.
The opening ceremonies of the XXVII Olympics Games were full of invention and colour and joy and fun and featured the never-fail format of using thousands of kids, including one, 13-year-old singer/aerialist Nikki Webster who will be remembered from these Olympics by more than half the athletes who win gold medals.
Of the 11 Olympic openers I've seen, this one beat the rest, no contest.
It all began with a "G'day, mate'' even though it really wasn't that Good of a day, mate. Cloudy, cold and windy, the temperature dipped into the low teens Celsius when, led by the Man From Snowy River, 120 stockmen, the first of 12,500 performers, rode into the stunning 110,000-seat Olympic Stadium on a floor created to resemble the Australian Outback.
And if the world's largest musical ride didn't do it, the next segment, titled "Deep Sea Dreaming", stole the show before it had barely begun. It featured the largest aerial event ever staged, to create a three-dimensional sea, and essentially turned the stadium into the world's largest fishbowl.
Eleven cables had been strung from one side of the stadium to the other and nine children, playing the parts of fish, swam across the stadium as part of the largest number of performers ever raised aloft in an Olympic ceremony. In all there were 14 sea creatures representing the beginnings of life in the seas that surround this nation-continent.
The Aboriginals, included next in "The Awakening" part of the program, were predictable and made for better pictures than actual entertainment. But, as one press tribune wag observed, "It still beats those pickup trucks from Atlanta."
The Aboriginals, for political reasons, were a predictable inclusion. That may have been why there wasn't a kangaroo involved - at least until the Australian team marched in - to be greeted by a standing ovation - wearing distinctive rust, green and gold and carrying knapsacks and throwing plastic yellow kangaroos into the crowd.
One major memory that will survive from this show well into the millennium will be the "Tin Symphony" featuring a bizarre range of tin industrial machinery, tin gadgetry, tin shacks and tap-dancing on tin, and even featured performers mowing the lawn. While almost impossible to explain, it fit the format of following Australia's history in its own weird way.
Another highlight was the performance of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Band playing a medley of selections, from Chariots Of Fire to Waltzing Matilda, featured 2,000 band members from 20 countries including Canada. The world band had nine days to rehearse.
After their show, which included the formation of the Sydney Olympic logo, they played for the athletes of the world as they made their march into the stadium.
A nice round number, was achieved, with athletes attending from 200 countries, when Brunei Darussalam showed up to march between the British Virgin Islands and Bulgaria.
The first standing ovation was for the two Koreas which had been convinced by the IOC to march together. While North Korea and South Korea will compete separately, their marching together was the very definition of an Olympic moment.
In all there are 11,300 athletes in these Olympics and they managed to complete the entire production by providing the best fashion show I've ever seen in one of these Olympic shows.
American Samoa, Angola, Bahrain, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Djibouti, Dominica, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Latvia, Lesotho, Liberia, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Mongolia, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Swaziland, Tajikistan, Uganda and Vanuatu may not win many medals at these Olympics but they one by one won the hearts of the world as they paraded into the stadium in traditional and colourful costumes to break up the jacket-and-blazer bunches and track-suit set.
Italy's use of the five colours of the Olympic rings as their pants, followed by Japan with multicoloured capes, also left an impression.
Canada didn't wow the world in the costume category, but at least we wore red and white and were a friendly bunch having fun with the moment and the crowd. Canada, which has 311 athletes at these Olympics, stretched from start line to finish line of the 100 metres.
Olivia Newton-John and John Farnham sang to the athletes as they walked among them. And a massive white cloth was carried over the heads of the crowd in the south stands of the stadium while images of athletes in action were projected on the moving backdrop. It eventually covered all the athletes on the field and was transformed into the world's largest Olympic flag. It was spectacular.
"G'day, Sydney. G'Day, Australia,'' said IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch before Australian field hockey player Michel Cox took the Olympic Athlete's Oath which was rewritten this year to add the words "committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs'' and before current world athletics 400-metre champion Cathy Freeman took the torch.
A real waterfall flowed from the top of the stadium to create the backdrop as a spaceship-like cauldron emerged from around her ankles and rose above her, with one small hiccup in its giddy-up, to the top of the stadium.
Let the Games begin? They've never begun like this before.