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Friday, September 1, 2000
Not everyone's getting into the Olympic spirit

By ROHAN SULLIVAN -- Associated Press

 SYDNEY, Australia -- The venues are ready, the athletes are doing their final warmups and the bunting is going up all over town. Sydney, are you ready to be part of the biggest show on Earth?

 No thanks, says Lynn White.

 "I'm really not interested in the Olympic games," said White, who with her husband Jim will fly out of Sydney in time to miss the opening ceremony for a vacation that will last just as long as the Sept. 15-Oct. 1 games.

 "I don't have anything against sport, I enjoy watching the football. But the traffic around here is bad enough at the best of times. It's about to go over the top."

 The Whites are not alone in wanting to escape what Lynn, a bookkeeper at an electrical firm, described as "the Olympic hoo-hah."

 A survey by games sponsor Ansett Airlines published in July found some 500,000 of Sydney's 4 million residents want out of the city while the games are on.

 "You can't get a seat on an aircraft going out of Sydney in early September," said Shirley McPhedran, travel agent with Sydney-based Aegean Tours. "It's Sydneysiders escaping from the Olympics."

 With less than two weeks to go, the buzz is building. Sydney has given itself over almost completely to the games -- from giant Olympic rings hanging from the landmark Harbor bridge to billboards covering one side of an office tower to blanket newspaper and television coverage.

 Enthusiastic crowds along the countrywide route of the Olympic torch and the quick sellout of premium tickets as they come on staggered sale are indications of the general support for the games in Sydney, and Australia.

 But not everyone is getting in the spirit. Some say the games are over-hyped, over-commercialized, over-expensive and overblown.

 "It's a circus," said Craig Reucassel, who runs a Website called "Silly 2000," which satirizes the official "Sydney 2000" site.

 "There is a serious side to the steroid use, the abuse of games processes, the bribery, but when you get down to it, the Olympics is just a glorified Little Athletics tournament," he said, referring to youth track meets.

 For Sydney residents, the excitement of being the center of the world's attention is being countered by the reality of disruptions to day-to-day life. With the start so close, the nuisance factor is starting to kick in.

 For example, getting home has become a difficult chore for residents of Balmain, who have just been told they are not allowed to make cross-traffic turns from the main road leading to their harborside suburb because the road is an official Olympic route.

 Taxi fares are about to jump by 10 percent for the duration of the games, and some restaurants -- even if you can get a seat -- are about to raise prices by up to 30 percent.

 Other dining establishments are charging a non-refundable booking fee to protect themselves against late cancelations.

 Organizers say the games is an opportunity for Sydney residents and are encouraging them to take annual leave, find some Olympic spirit and buy some of the 1.25 million general tickets still unsold.

 But unless you're traveling to an event, please stay home to relieve stress on the public bus and train transport system, organizers say. Commuters can expect hours more travel time because of Olympic demand, meaning some people will rise before dawn and get home after dark just to work a 9-5 shift.

 Lanes on major roadways will be for official vehicles only, and parking is banned at all times along those routes, where previously minor traffic fines all of a sudden are astronomical. Traffic chaos will be made worse by a vehicle no-go zone that will be declared in a large section of downtown.

 The problems radiate farther than downtown. Early morning joggers, and anybody else who visits famous Bondi beach, will have to swerve around the temporary 10,000-seat beach volleyball stadium built in the sand. And police are already stopping and searching cars passing through salubrious Rose Bay, where sailing events will be held.

 While some airlines are cutting fares out of Australia during the games to try to fill planes that will bring games visitors into Sydney, McPhedran said demand was high in the weeks leading up to the Sept. 15 start, particularly in first and business class.

 For the Whites, even the chance to see daughter Kelly take part in the opening ceremony was not enough to keep them in Sydney.

 A dancer, Kelly will take the field with around 5,000 others for a brief appearance at the hours-long extravaganza.

 But the ticket price -- starting at $570 -- was too much for the Whites.

 "She said 'Mum, you won't be there to see me,' but I told her, well, what will we see anyway," said Lynn White. "The seats (we could afford) are so far away we wouldn't be able to see a thing."

 Instead, the VCR will be set to tape the performance, and the Whites plan to scan the telecast from Zurich. "Maybe we'll catch a glimpse of her on TV," Lynn White said.

 Carrying stories under headlines such as "Greg Norman calls for golf to be an Olympic sport: 'I'd be proud to choke for Australia"' and "Cyclists become Jehovah's witnesses: 'Blood tests are against our religion,"' the "Silly 2000" site aims to offer laughter as comfort for the inconveniences of the games, said Reucassel.

 "When the trains are derailing, when the drug scandals break, when terrorists attack Sydney's nuclear facility, you are going to need some light relief," he said, referring to recent Olympic stories.

 "We are a panacea to the Olympics."

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