They are over. After 2+ months of following the torch – thanks to the Sydney Morning Herald’s excellent coverage - and listening to and, on rare occasions, watching the events (the cable TV is in the den, down a flight of steps I do not care to maneuver), they are over. No more hearing names every day that are as familiar to me as Alden Road and South Avenue. They are over. Or are they? I wonder.
This Olympics showed everyone what can happen when things are organized early, well and with flair. This Olympics was a far, far cry from the amateur sports the modern Games were supposed to celebrate, but my goodness these Games were a terrific tribute to the human spirit and whatever that wonderful spirit is that I have always felt when visiting Australia.
The opening ceremonies set a tone that never flagged - a bit long at times, but worth it, filled with stories about people, celebration and Aussie style.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer (it feels wonderful reading again, thanks to my cataract surgery), Michael Knight described a "magical mood in the city." It seemed that everyone was swept up in that magical mood from the time the torch touched down on Australian soil. It will always be part of this Gramster's heart.
I do have a bone to pick with some USA sports writers and sadly parochial television commentators. The Inquirer article said the closing ceremonies found Sydney "packed with more than a million Australians giddy with newfound national pride." Excuse me?? Newfound?? The only people who can outdo Americans for national pride are your typical Australians, perhaps Sydneysiders more than any other.
As I wrote in an earlier posting, Sydney takes in stride that it is the greatest city on the face of the earth, the most dynamic and the most visually stunning. They already knew that Sydney has been considered for years the most popular city on the face of the earth, turning Paris and even San Francisco into also-rans. These people had their sports venues prepared literally years before the Olympics, unlike a lot of other countries - including in the USA - where they were still being finished at the last moment.
Was the Lord Mayor surprised that the "trains and athletes ran on time?” That a record 87% of available tickets were sold? That they really and truly were the "best Olympics ever"? I think not. Yet after saying that the Sydney Games were judged spectacularly successful, the Inquirer continued that "maybe most important, the Games seemed to help Australia overcome its long international inferiority complex."
When I read that - and I had to read it a couple times, it seemed too incredible - all I could think of was that maybe Americans find it hard to understand the Australian knack for self-deprecation. They are masters of the self-put down and steer clear of the superlatives we love. I learned that if I really wanted to compliment my daughter-in-law on how she looked, all I had to say was she didn't look half bad. But after seven trips to Australia, my beloved 2nd home, I can tell you that they have no lack of national confidence.
What happened, I think, was that the rest of the world discovered
Australia and Sydney. They experienced first-hand the "larriken" (spelling?) spirit and the attitude and atmosphere impossible to describe.
To me, what happened over the Olympics embodies my experience with
Australians - they were impeccably planned without a lot of self-aggrandizement, they were fun and filled with Down Under energy,they used the city - especially the Opera House and the "Coat Hanger" - their greatest props, they did what they set out to do and did so with style. They took an event that happens every four years and turned it into what was in every way the event of a lifetime.
I was not been able to go downstairs to watch the end of the Olympics. I was too tired last night to make the trek down the stairs and back. I headed up to bed. I will always remember the excitement with which Elsa came into my darkened room after I was in bed and, in the dark room, described the final moments of the closing, the stadium singing "Waltzing Matilda" and the magnificent fireworks. I am looking forward to settling down to watch the recorded finale, seeing what she described as the most spectacular fireworks, using the "Coat Hanger" as center piece. I will always remember how her voice caught describing how the grand finale had hundreds and hundreds of fireworks taking off from the bridge and the five Olympic rings which had adorned the bridge throughout the Games blazed themselves - then all faded to smoky darkness, the fireworks were gone, the rings were gone and soon the athletes would be gone.
Australia showed the world how it could be done. My favorite part of the article in the Inquirer came at the very end. Unlike Australia, which had all but one of its sports venues completed at least 8 months before the Games, Athens is "lagging far behind schedule in construction of stadiums and transportation infrastructure.
" 'Should they falter, and I have no reason to expect they would," said
Frank Sartor, lord mayor of Sydney, 'Sydney would be more than happy to host the games again.' '"
It was not, definitely not, that Australia finally found a sense of national pride, but that the world finally found out what so many of us already knew - that meeting and exceeding expectations is a daily thing for Australians, from wowing people with their hospitality to the stunning beauty of the country and the city, to the indescribable feeling you get just walking an average street let alone crossing - or climbing - the "Coat Hanger."
I might suffer from Post~Oi! lympics Syndrome ...or the spirit of the
Games might just stay with me forever. It has been a magical, never-to-be forgotten time for this Gramster. Every day, the word "Australia" seemed to be on everyone's lips. Every day, through the newspaper, the television, the radio, the Internet, names I love were bandied about and thoughts of family Down Under - birth family and family of the heart - were so often stirred.
I will remember these Olympics forever. In the end, you know, they were not half bad.
Love to all of you from a very happy NAN