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Sunday, October 1, 2000

Sydney, Stadium Australia - Closing Ceremonies

The Games are officially over but the party has just begun! I've just returned from the Closing Ceremonies (WOW) and am too exhausted to join the rest of the athletes in late-night partying and carousing.

It's already well past midnight and the Village is surprisingly quiet. Everyone must have gone downtown to the Opera House or Darling Harbor to find the night clubs and pubs. Dancing and pubbing have been added to the Olympic program, it seems.

The Closing Ceremony tonight was pretty darn spectacular. Using all sorts of props, dancers, and music, the show highlighted Australian movies, entertainment superstars, and sports heroes. There were "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" drag queens, "Mad Max" road warriors, and "Strictly Ballroom" ballroom dancers. Paul Hogan, Elle MacPherson, and Greg Norman rode parade floats around the stadium before joining Midnight Oil, Men at Work, and several other "famous" Australian rock bands on stage for a rousing rendition of "Waltzing Matilda".

The best part, though, was parading on to the field for the second time during these Games. Instead of the orderly procession of each nation, all the countries came in together all mixed up in a jumble of colors, flags, and national emblems. I walked in with Canadians, Malaysians, Cook Islanders, and Belorussians. And everyone was smiling, taking pictures, dancing, and jumping around (we were excited, but it was also really cold so we had to move around to stay warm).

As the show moved from one stage in the center of the field to another along the side and back again, all the athletes drifted around the infield trying to get a closer look at the action. I wandered around talking to people I had met and recognized from earlier in the Games: people I raced against, met on a bus ride to the Olympic Park, or sat next to in the cafeteria a few days earlier. Many athletes were trading their uniforms, jackets, and pins. I saw two women who had practically stripped in order to exchange their t-shirts. There was so much else going on, no one even noticed.

Each athlete from the U.S. was given two tickets to the Ceremonies, so my parents were able to get in and have a great view of the festivities. I was even able to track them down up in the stands. I called them using the cell phone that I have on loan while I am here, and they were able to see me standing on the infield waving my little American flag up at them.

During every Games, the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron is a really big deal. This year, Cathy Freeman had the honors and it was awesome. The dowsing of the flame is often less climatic, but the Aussies had something special planned. The young girl who was featured in the Opening Ceremonies came back and sang a special "Goodbye Sydney" song (or something like that). Just as she finished singing and everyone's attention was on her and the flame above her, a Royal Australian Air Force fighter jet flew low over the flame. As it passed over the cauldron, the burn-off from the jet burst into flame as though the flame had jumped from the cauldron to the jet, and then the jet soared low over the stadium and rose into the sky, just a slowly fading orange beacon in the dark night. It was pretty cool.

It's nearly one in the morning and I have a busy day planned tomorrow. Packing, moving out of the Village, and visiting some of the sights here in Sydney. The Olympics may be over, but my Australian adventures continue....



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