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Tuesday, October 3, 2000
Australians party on

Tickertape parade for Olympians

By MATTHEW FISHER -- Toronto Sun

  SYDNEY -- They are gone now, or at least leaving -- more than 10,000 athletes, 20,000 journalists and millions of fans, the people who made the 2000 Summer Olympics come to life.

 But while the Olympic flame has been extinguished, Australia does not want to stop partying.

 Thirty-six hours after more than one million Sydneysiders gathered around the harbour to bid the Olympics adieu with what may have been the greatest fireworks in history, another crowd of one million gathered again last night to give their Olympians a tickertape parade.

 The medal winners on parade included aboriginal runner Cathy Freeman, swimmers Ian Thorpe, Michael Klim and Grant Hackett and pole vaulter Tatiana Grigorieva.

 "It is a way for us to thank Australia for the support they gave their athletes. This is tremendous," said Freeman, a day after she held a warm meeting with a group of aboriginal children whom she encouraged to not be ashamed to seek help so that they can be all that they can be.

 The celebration was telecast live across the nation. It began at the Sydney Opera House and wound its way for several hours through the skyscrapers of the business district through the toniest shopping precincts to Town Hall. All along the route, huge crowds waved Australian blue ensigns and screamed "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi."

 Australia finished fourth in the medals table at the Olympics with 58, behind the United States (97), the Russian Federation (88) and China (59).

 There are many ways to quantify Australia's fantastic success in the Olympics and locals have been trying them all on this week. Based on spending over the previous 12 months on elite sport, it cost Australia about $20 million to produce each of its 16 gold medals.

 The Bahamas actually won the Sydney Olympics on a per capita basis with four medals, or one for every 154,000 people. That put it just ahead of Barbados and Iceland.

 Australia was fourth with a medal for every 326,000 inhabitants.

 Canada placed 40th with one medal per 2,225,000 citizens, slightly ahead of the United States on a per capita basis. But Canada was far behind similar western nations such as Norway, Sweden. Greece, New Zealand, Finland, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and Britain.

 Australia said goodbye to the Games Sunday night with a citywide explosion of light and a festive closing ceremony that delved into the nation's identity with some very curious results.

 Fireworks rolled east across the sky, a 14-kilometre fuse that carried the Olympic torch's symbolic light from the stadium along barges in Homebush Bay to a humanity-crammed downtown. There, the majestic Harbour Bridge exploded like a giant Roman candle in a fusillade of pyrotechnics.

 Organizers wanted a relaxed closing show that let competitors and spectators send the Games off in style. And a raucous, untethered party they got.

 It veered oddly among comedy, ancient ritualism and scenes that seemed straight from a hallucinogenic reverie.

 ATHENS ON NOTICE: Within hours of calling the Sydney Games the best ever, IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch put Athens on notice to speed preparations for the 2004 Summer Olympics.

 Samaranch said the Greek government needs to do more to overcome three years of chronic delays in construction of venues and other projects.

 "I think with the new organizing committee things are going much better," he said yesterday. "But we need another step forward. The co-operation of the government must be more important. The government must be more involved in the Games."

 Samaranch warned earlier this year that the Athens Games were in danger because of the delays. Since then, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, who led the Athens bid, was brought back to run the organizing committee, and Premier Costas Simitis has assumed government control over the Games.

 poor ratings: NBC's Sydney Olympics coverage drew the lowest ratings for a Summer or Winter Games since 1968.

 The cumulative Nielsen rating for the 17 nights of telecasts was 13.8 with a 24 share.

 That's 36% lower than for the 1996 Atlanta Games, and 21% lower than for the 1988 Seoul Games, the last time the Summer Olympics were this late in the year.

 And, more significantly, it is more than 20% lower than what NBC Sports predicted (17.5 to 18.5) it would get, and nearly 15% worse than sponsors were promised (16.1).

  -- with files from AP
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