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Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Great view from here, just don't look down

 It's not as far as heaven, but you might get a glimpse from here. That's if you're prepared to get a peak at hell, too.

 Sitting on top of the world while you're at the bottom of it is a neat feat.

 It's pretty difficult to get much farther away from London than the Olympic streets of Sydney, but it's possible. A dawn hike up the Sydney Harbour bridge will do it.

 Your feet are aimed at London, but your head is in the clouds. It's a gripping event -- a cold hand grips your heart while your own grips the steel that arcs over the choppy water a loooooooong way below, 134 metres below, to be exact.

 There are no Olympic points for style. Whimpering is considered bad form.

 It was 7 a.m. Monday (early Sunday evening in the Forest City) when Sun Media's Mike Ulmer, photographer Fred Thornhill and I did the bridge climb. Nothing like a little stark terror for some perspective.

 You see most of the Olympic sites and in some cases, your own mortality. Ulmer's a guy that gets nervous about heights while wearing thick-soled shoes.

 But we prevailed.

 So will others who join in one of Australia's newest thrills.

 Below, the Babel of new voices and crush of vibrant colours spice the sweep of a modern Sydney prepped and primping for the opening of the Olympic Games later this week. Downtown Sydney and its forest of imposing office towers stand guard over the harbour.

 The famous Opera House, it's billowing white segments glistening in the morning sun, sails imperiously silent. A bonfire of controversy during its construction a quarter-century ago, it has become the flagship of Sydney pride.

 Beyond the skyscrapers, the tiled roofs of residences peek up through the palm and eucalyptus. Wide avenues and tiny streets, the veins and capillaries of a broad-shouldered metropolis, rev up through the morning mist during rush-hour traffic and high above it all, a question cannot be evaded.

 Will Sydney be struck with hardening of the arteries as the growing trickle of visitors becomes a torrent over the next few days?

 Critical as they are, such questions seem mundane to someone on a hike of such Himalayan proportions. A look back at The Rocks, site of the first European settlement here, inspires a thought about the resourcefulness of mankind.

 Once a haven for convicts, sailors and street thugs, it now emits the reclaimed glow of tony propriety and a history so alluring to tourists. The flying squad of Toronto 2008 Olympic bidders here is surely taking notes of this and the brick-paved diversification of Darling Harbour for their own waterfront plans.

 High above the world's most beautiful harbour, though, Sydney's seductive repose doesn't quite erase reality. Nasty facts intrude. By the time they joined the bridge in 1932 after building from each side, 16 workers had perished. This comes to mind when the breeze rises one knot in the 12-degree morning.

 So too, occasionally, does the gold rivet. Myth has it among the 6 million rivets holding it together is one made of solid gold.

 A couple of writers and a photographer don't care. It's the 5,999,999 other ones they're concerned about.