Australians still clinging to Olympic feeling

SYDNEY, Australia, AP

Don’t Stop!!

After seven years of preparations and then two weeks of action-packed Olympic competition and partying, it seems Sydneysiders can’t let go of the Olympics. Two days after the 2000 Olympics concluded with a bang in a massive fireworks display on Sydney Harbor, hundreds of thousands of spectators lined city streets Tuesday from the landmark Opera House to Sydney’s Town Hall to cheer the Australian team on a victory parade. Before presenting the key to the city to the Olympic team, Sydney Lord Mayor Frank Sartor heaped praise on the Olympics and the Olympians. It was Australia’s “best ever performance, in the best ever Olympics and in the greatest city in the world,” he said. Australia, a sports-loving nation of about 19 million people, placed fourth on the medal tally with 58 medals, including 16 gold. Almost 48 hours after the closing ceremony, the athletes were still basking in glory. And the plan is for the party to continue with similar parades in the interstate capitals of Melbourne and Brisbane. On a perfect Spring afternoon, the Australian team marched or rode on the back of cars through city center as a flag-waving crowd crammed into every vantage to get a glimpse. The parade was televised live on TV for those who couldn’t make it. Almost 600 athletes and hundreds of officials filed through in the alphabetical order of their sports, with archery gold medalist Simon Fairweather in the leading car. Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates, who was also a key member of the Sydney organizing committee, sat between track stars Cathy Freeman and pole-vaulter Tatiana Grigorevia in another car. Freeman was among the most relieved athletes on the team after taking gold in the women’s 400 meters to cap a memorable Olympics for her. A proud Aborigine, Freeman lit the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony in a gesture of reconciliation between indigenous and non indigenous Australians. “I’m so proud … I’m so relieved, you guys are heavy,” said Freeman, explaining that she was happy to no longer have the hopes of the host nation riding on her shoulders. “This has given me memories that I’ll treasure forever,” she added. Freeman was judged by her Australian peers as the most popular female athlete at the Sydney Games. In a tribute to Australia’s new queen of the track, New South Wales state premier Bob Carr, whose government bankrolled the Olympics, dropped to one knee as he kissed Freeman’s hand before she spoke to the crowd. Australian team captain Andrew Gaze, who has represented Australia at basketball in five Olympics, accepted a symbolic key to the city – Sydney’s highest civic honor – from Sartor. Australia’s newspapers were still full Tuesday of Olympic news and pictures of celebrating Australians. Photos of Prime Minister John Howard “crowd surfing” at the athletes’ party Monday night were splashed across the front page of Tuesday’s Australian newspaper. In bold letters above photos of Freeman, Grigorevia, swimmer Ian Thorpe and long jumper Jai Taurima, the Sydney Morning Herald carried the headline: “Thanks for the Memories.”