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Tuesday, September 26, 2000

Time for some gold-medal partying

 SYDNEY -- Forget all those years of dedication, those endless training sessions at dawn. It's time to party.

 Athletes who led lives of monastic austerity have discovered there is life after sport - and they are putting as much energy into Olympic partying as they did into Olympic training.

 "It's a big relief the Games are over," said Dutch triple gold medallist Inge de Bruijn, whose swimming events have ended. "It's finally time to party," she said, hitting the town big time at the Dutch House.

 "They were singing, clapping and dancing and we just had fun and sprayed champagne all over the place," she said before heading off to the Great Barrier Reef for a holiday with her boyfriend and coach Jacco Verhaeren.

 She and fellow Dutch swimming star Pieter van den Hoogenband went for a "body surf" over the crowds who carried them across the room.

 On one riotous night, it got so full that the bouncers would only let in Dutch nationals.

 Swimming star Ian Thorpe had to get special permission to hit the hot spots - he is only 17 and had to get clearance to join the Australian swim team's celebrations.

 Michael Klim took to the stage at the Last Lap nightclub for a spot of air guitar - a mocking reference to American swimmer Gary Hall who promised the U.S. team would smash the Australians "like guitars."

 Many nations have their own favourite bars where those athletes whose competitions are over can let their hair down afterwards and party as long as they like.

 There is the Moose bar for the Canadians, Nick's Seafood Restaurant for the Greeks, Japan House and The South African Clubhouse. The Brazilians just never stop drumming at JBs.

 Darling Harbour is heaving with up to 250,000 partygoers every night who watch the Olympics on giant television screens, pack the bars and enjoy the fireworks that light up the luxury yachts along the quayside.

 Kids leap in and out of the fountains. Pin traders on the sidewalk swap their treasured Olympic pins. Australian fans parade in green and yellow warpaint, their national colours.

 But police fear the closing ceremony celebrations could turn a little too riotous. So they are planning bag searches in the Darling Harbour area to ensure revellers do not bring in their own drink supplies.

 "We want to create a family atmosphere," a police spokesman said.