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Tuesday, August 15, 2000
With a month to go, Sydney finally getting Olympic feel

By ROB GLOSTER -- Associated Press

 SYDNEY, Australia -- For more than 2,500 days, Sydneysiders have maintained an air of indifference while quietly preparing for the 2000 Olympics.

 Now, with a month remaining before the Sept. 15 opening ceremony, the torch is nearing the final stages of its long journey around the continent, and the city finally has developed an Olympic feel.

 Banners and flags have been festooned around Sydney. The Harbor Bridge, one of the city's most recognizable landmarks, is about to be decorated with five Olympic rings consisting of 170,000 bulbs.

 And hundreds of folks in business suits took extra-long lunches Tuesday to attend a downtown concert at which organizers announced the lineup for a series of free performances during the Olympics.

 "This will confirm Sydney as the international party capital. It's going to be a fantastic time to be in Sydney, make no mistake," said Frank Sartor, the city's lord mayor. "It will be a carnival in Sydney for 18 days."

 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.

 Sydney has 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, and some people are tired of hearing about the Olympics.

 Yet those attitudes should 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 huge crowds. Employees at a hotel that will play host to International Olympic Committee members picketed on Monday, demanding Olympic bonuses.

 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.

 Greenpeace, the environmental group, on Tuesday downgraded its "Green Games" rating for Olympic organizers to six out of 10 on the latest report card -- after giving officials a rating of seven in its previous report.

 And even the Goodyear blimp is having its problems. Repainted with the words "G'day" and "Good Luck" on its sides, it might miss the games after a gust of wind dropped it on its side while it was moored.

 Officials said they hope to know by Thursday whether the blimp, which was expected to provide aerial pictures during the games, will be able to fly by Sept. 15.

 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."

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