Australians turn to Olympic betting
SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- The Olympic torch is nearing home. The Olympic Stadium is about to get its biggest test. Newly hung banners and flags finally are giving Sydney the feel of an Olympic city.
So, with a month left before the 2000 Games, Australians are turning to their favorite pastime -- gambling.
In a nation devoted to wagering, newspapers already are running betting lines on Olympic events ranging from track and field to synchronized swimming.
Want to bet on who will light the flame? One newspaper makes Dawn Fraser, a swimmer who won four Olympic gold medals and four silvers for Australia in the 1950s and '60s, the even-money favorite.
The torch made it to New South Wales, the state of which Sydney is the capital, on Monday night after a 68-day journey around Australia. From the Aboriginal sacred site of Uluru to an underwater stint at the Great Barrier Reef, the torch has drawn huge crowds throughout the continent.
Sydneysiders have been relatively laid-back about the imminent arrival of the games. It has been more than 2,500 days since Sydney won the bid back in 1993 to play host, and some people are tired of hearing about the Olympics.
Yet those attitudes may soon change.
Rod McGeoch, who led Sydney's successful bid for the 2000 Games and was a torch carrier Monday, said the city does not realize how much excitement the Sept. 15-Oct. 1 Olympics will generate.
"I don't think people have much of a sense of what the torch relay is going to do when it hits Sydney, let alone a sense of the scale of the games," he said.
Though all the Olympic venues are finished and the 110,000-seat Olympic Stadium is going to get its biggest test this week when it stages the Australian track trials, some problems remain.
More than 2.1 million tickets remained for sale as of early August. Airport and train problems in recent weeks are causing concern about how the public transport system will handle a crowd expected to include 111,000 international visitors.
Aborigines, angered at a court ruling last week and a police raid on a drug-infested Aboriginal housing project, plan to ring the airport with sign-carrying protesters and stage huge marches during the games.
And even the Goodyear blimp is having its problems. Repainted with the words "G'day" and "Good Luck" on its sides, it may miss the games after a gust of wind dropped it on its side while it was moored.
But Harry Gordon, an Olympic historian who has been covering the games since Australia's last Olympics in 1956 at Melbourne, said all those problems will melt away as Sydneysiders get caught up in the atmosphere.
"People don't yet realize the mood that's going to envelop Sydney," he said. "The games are not just a buzz or a warmth. It sounds crazy, but they're like a bliss which spreads across a community, even a tough community like Sydney."