By JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press
One word is guaranteed to put a beaming face on almost any Australian.
The word is better, as in their Olympic Games are better than Atlanta's.
Australians look at the rest of the world from Down Under and while they insist they're in their own little universe, they are sensitive to what others think. Particularly as regards the United States, a common but often flawed benchmark.
Some are even taking a perverse pride in the escape of two prisoners from a jail two kilometres from the Olympic Stadium, a daylight breakout during which a van carrying several Korean Olympic volunteers was commandeered. It's a sort out "our desperadoes are just as daring as your's," sort of thing.
Normally, Brits (called Pommies in these parts) are targets of Aussie wisecracks. The larger target at the moment are Americans and how they conduct themselves in Australia.
Offered Sydney Morning Herald columnist Bill Bryson on such American claims that Aussie coffee is too strong: "As the saying goes, it takes all kinds to make the world go round, though perhaps some should go quite so far round it as others."
So far, it is a better Olympics than Atlanta four years ago by a long shot. Sydney got an instant edge with the world's most beautiful harbour, friendlier people and safer environment, and added an almost-universal participation by citizens through giant television screens throughout the many parks and all manner of live entertainment to go with them.
You could come here without a ticket and get the same enjoyment.
It's got a long way to go but at the end, when Olympic chief Juan Antonio Samaranch once more concludes the Games with the words "best ever," he might really mean it.