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Saturday, September 16, 2000
Australians have made it their Games

Swept away by opening ceremony

By RYAN PYETTE -- Winnipeg Sun

 SYDNEY-- The lighting of the Olympic cauldron has never lit my fire like, say, watching someone hoist the Stanley Cup over their head.

 The Cup is pure, spontaneous emotion. The cauldron, calculated.

 I still think anybody who paid 1,000 bucks to see the opening ceremonies of the Games here last night is a numbskull.

 That feeling doesn't come from being tight with money. Mostly, it comes from seeing the shadow of the International Olympic Committee looming over everything -- watching little, old Samaranch sitting there directing it all -- and not wanting to get sucked in by the hoopla.

 But Friday night, it was darn hard not to get swept away. Darn hard not to yell, 'Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi', or sing along to Waltzing Matilda with these folks who think their country's the world's best, even though, to you, it's not true.

 What the Aussies have done the best here is make this their Games.

 It's their slogan: Our Games.

 PRETTY ANNOYING

 It can get pretty annoying to give up your city for a month to a bunch of people who keep asking you where the next train station is, or have access to people and places that suddenly you don't have.

 But these folks have done it with a smile.

 And last night, the people who gave up their city for the world, the people who will have to watch the big events on TV just like we do in Canada (not the ones who parked a super yacht at the end of the harbour and pulled out the dough for a ticket to the ceremonies like it was a tip for a waiter) shuffled off to places like Darling Harbour and Circular Quay and watched the beginning of their Games on a big-screen Panasonic.

 They brought cases of beer because in Oz you're allowed to stand in the street and drink. They shared 'em around, raised 'em in the air, and hooted or hollered, shouting stuff like, "Go Burkino Faso" when some of the little wee countries walked into the stadium.

 They cheered the Aboriginal theme. They booed their Prime Minister.

 Near the back, one guy said to his buddy, 'Y'know, I thought it was all going to be this ballet crap, but this aboriginal stuff is so much better. It's just so ... Australian."

 There was joy.

 Except, of course, when a small band of young, drunk punks shouted, 'Shoot the Indians, Shoot the Indians,' the same way the penal colonists must've said and acted some two hundred-odd years ago.

 Stood up defiantly

 But a young lady about 18 years old across the way, stood up defiantly and yelled, "Stop that. We're trying to say, 'Sorry.' And for the first time in the history of young, drunk punks, they didn't heckle her back.

 There were some great moments.

 People roared and danced when war-torn East Timor athletes came into the stadium, and they watched in awe when North and South Korea came in together.

 At Moose Lodge in Cockle Bay Wharf (the designated Canadian watering-hole that's always full of Aussies), the United States team flashed on the screen. Loud boos. It showed Chelsea Clinton clapping. More loud boos. Bill Gates. Lusty jeers. They booed New Zealand and South Africa, the other great rugby nations.

 And when Australia finally arrived, they tore the roof off.

 The ceremonies were broadcast across Australia on the radio, and the cabbies had their windows down with the volume up. Outside the Crown Hotel, at the moment Aboriginal Aussie runner Cathy Freeman was lighting the torch, an IBM guy, wearing his business suit and riding home after working late, asked the cab to pull over so he could watch a TV through the window.

 She lit it, and the TV announcer declared it the greatest moment in Australian history.

 The IBM guy and the cabbie both nodded.
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