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Sunday, May 7, 2000
Only cranes still growling in Sydney

By GEORGE GROSS -- Countdown to Sydney

 The dictionary says that kookaburra is a kingfisher, an Australian bird the size of a crow with a call resembling loud laughter.

 I came across the kookaburra on my visit to Sydney as a member of the International Olympic Committee's Press Commission a few months ago and was intrigued by the bird's fishing expeditions.

 In case you didn't know, the kookaburra is a very popular bird in Sydney, but not half as popular as the building crane. As one writer put it so succinctly, the building crane and its accomplices, the bulldozer and the steamroller, have kept the city in scaffolding, raising bridges, scratching out tunnels, laying rails and building stadium after stadium.

 In short -- a feverish Olympic building boom. In fact, the only place I didn't see cranes was on Bondi Beach, the part of Sydney where the lovely and beautiful display nude torsos.

 Getting back to territory and talk about largess, it's usually Texas that comes to mind. But that honourable state in the U.S. seems dwarfed in comparison to the preparations for the Olympic Games in Sydney, which will get underway in roughly four months.

 According to members of SOCOG--Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games--the 2000 Olympics will be not only one of the biggest ever undertaken, they will be the biggest and boldest mobilization of men, machines and money ever seen in peacetime.

 Some Olympic experts forecast the loss of millions of dollars, but when it's all done, I wouldn't be surprised if Sydney wound up in the black, thanks to the huge invasion of visitors, sponsors' money and, most important, television revenue and IOC support.

 The numbers (of participants) are staggering. More than 15,000 athletes, coaches, referees, medical staff and team officials will be on hand. So will about 10,000 members of the media divided between the written press, television and radio. The most impressive number is the more than 100,000 staff and volunteers who'll make certain everything was under control.

 During the two and a half weeks of competition, the city will have to accommodate about a quarter of a million visitors from all parts of the world, which is a lot of faces to feed and bodies to find sleeping quarters for. Heck, in the Olympic Village alone, chefs will have to prepare some 50,000 meals a day. And that's not counting all the hamburgers and hotdogs provided by fast food outlets.

 When I visited Sydney, some of the venues were being built. Like the main press centre, for instance. The designated area was the size of a football field and had the roof in place. An official assured me this week that the building, including air conditioning, is ready to be taken over by the press.

 Indeed, the fury of the cranes in recent months has guaranteed completion of all venues from the $500 million US, 110,000-seat Stadium Australia, with not a bad seat in the house, to the rather modest velodrome for cycling events.

 The whole show will cost the Aussies some $2 billion, but they hope it will be all worth it. Sydney is ready and decked out like the kookaburras, kangaroos and koalas in the Sydney zoo. They all are prepared to welcome Olympic visitors.

 Only the cranes are still doing last-minute growling.
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