Wollongong embraces Olympic spirit

Almost 27 years ago, many sleep deprived Australians of all ethnic backgrounds and creeds were glued to whatever media device within their reach to hear the announcement of which city would be hosting the year 2000 Summer Olympic Games.

Some of the early contenders had dropped out but bid committees from Istanbul, Manchester, Berlin, Beijing and Sydney were still hopeful of having a chance. One by one the contenders were ruled out until there was only Sydney and the more favoured Beijing left to vie for the honours.

The Sydney bid committee had put on an excellent show. Australia's multicultural diversity, lengthy indigenous history, laid-back nature and some of the world's best scenery, were all featured in one very attractive display.

There was a late surge of support for Beijing, but after the very close 45 to 43 voting decision, the President of the International Olympic Committee Juan Antonio Samaranch announced to the world from Monte Carlo at 4.27am EST in his most unique English pronunciation, "The winner is Sydney". Australia erupted with excitement and anticipation because this meant we had another chance at hosting the World's largest sporting event since our excellent effort in Melbourne in 1956.

The following seven years went very quickly. The machinery of SOCOG went into full drive as expert hands such as Michael Knight, John Fahey, Bruce Baird, Rod McGeoch and others pulled off a games that exactly 20 years ago, was described by Samaranch as " The best Olympic Games ever".

Fox Sport still has Sydney's ranking amongst all Summer Olympic Games as number 3, immediately following Beijing 2008 and Rome 1960. Our largest ever contingent of 632 athletes brought home 16 gold, 25 silver and 17 Bronze medals, placing us 4th on the medal tally list behind the USA, Russia and China.

Altogether 15,000 athletes and officials from 200 countries and 250,000 visitors saw the face of Sydney close up.

I can remember Cathy Freeman in the women's 400m final, wearing her trade mark green and gold full body suit breaking 50 seconds to win gold. One of many memories that won't fade. The Australian Olympic Team website has been running a day-by-day result link to events held in Sydney 2000, viewable here on. https://www.olympics.com.au/

Wollongong and the South Coast were closely linked to the games by being at first a dormitory area for games visitors and also hosting a section of the Torch Relay. The relay started on the coast at Thredbo and Cooma on September 7 and went through Wollongong on September 11.

Kylie Hannigan one of Wollongong's local athletes who was part of the Australian 4X100m and 4X400m relay teams also took part. In August 2012 she visited her old primary school, Stella Maris, and inspired the local pupils with her torch and tales of her adventure.

Other well known athletes were Southern Flame athlete Katherine Holland who was also quite capable at surfing, netball and tennis; and that hugely popular local long distance star Kerryn McCann, who although tragically taken at an early age left an ageless and indelible mark on the local community. Michelle Timms, a member of the Australian Womens Basketball team lit the community cauldron in front of hosts Lord Mayer George Harrison and Steve Parsons and 30,000 onlookers at Wollongong's Lang Park.

Twenty years later we look to a new Olympic games being held in Tokyo. Circumstances are vastly different because of the global pandemic. But still, those who dream the dream, dare to try and commit to work will carry on the tradition, Australian spirit and the desire to win that has been the creed of the Sydney 2000 squad and those before them. Athletics is a global sport with a very long Olympic history.

Folk wanting to have a go at athletics are quite welcome to contact us via our web page, www.athleticswollongong.org.au or message us on our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/7603289126/

Vale John Fahey who passed away on September 12, aged 75.

Mr Fahey was an energetic keen Australia-loving politician who saw that obtaining the Olympic Games for Australia in the year 2000 would provide our nation with an enormous tourism opportunity and showcase the best this country has to offer to the rest of the world.

He was passionate about keeping sport clean, and so after serving his term as chairman on the bid 2000 games committee, he served as President of WADA from January 2008 to December 2013 to keep drugs out of sport. His energy and passion will be sorely missed. Our condolences to his family and friends.