Excitement builds as the Olympic Torch approaches Sydney

By Gary Abbott | Sept. 12, 2000, 12 a.m. (ET)
Americans may remember the excitement and interest generated by the Olympic Torch run as it made its way across the United States prior to the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. The same kind of enthusiasm for the torch run is gripping Australia as the Olympic Torch works its way towards the city for the Sydney Olympics. On Tuesday, the torch was carried through the suburban town of Bankstown just outside Sydney, where the U.S. Olympic Committee has its staff headquarters. The torch run captivated the entire town, which turned out early in the morning awaiting its arrival. Bankstown is a working class, ethnically diverse town, and a wide variety of cultural activities were included in the official torch run festivities. The torch was scheduled to go by the town hall at 9:00 a.m., and the city center was alive by 7:00 in the morning. Thousands of people came out early for a festival in the park near city hall, complete with bands, dancing troupes and dignitaries making speeches. My new friend, who owns the local coffee café, King Fozzie's, was making money hand over fist as the local citizens lined up for breakfast or a hot drink. The weather was miserable, as a gale force cold wind blew through town and seemed to cut through your clothing, no matter how heavy your coat was. However, as the time for the torch arrival approached, more and more people flooded the streets, entire families with small children, elderly citizens, literally the entire city. As with many things so far at the Olympics, the torch arrival was delayed. Minutes turned to many minutes to almost a full hour of waiting in the cold. The spirits of the local citizens were unfazed, as they called out sports cheers, sang songs and cheered passing cars that beeped their horns at the crowds. People were waving Australian flags, and many waved whatever they could get, including hundreds of paper flags adorned with corporate logos. The next challenge was getting in position to take a photo of the torch bearer. The police moved the crowd a number of times off a divider in the middle of the street. I must have changed my location five times, waiting for a chance to take a picture of the man with the flame. All of a sudden, after almost an hour, a parade of official vehicles, police cars and police motorcycles came down the road. My digital camera told me the disc was full, so I had to quickly dig through my bag for another disc as the cheers started from the crowd. Everybody ran back onto the concrete divider, in spite of the police instructions. The torch had reached Bankstown. I snapped a shot of the lead motorcycle, and as an older man with white hair in running shorts approached, I had the perfect shot of the torch. Of course, somebody next to me bumped into my arm and the photo was lost, but I did get a shot of the man after he had passed, from behind, running with the Olympic flame. As quickly as the torch arrived, it had gone. This scene has been played out all over Australia in recent weeks, and seems to be gaining intensity as the flame approaches the city. Geoff Marsh, the wrestling competition manager for wrestling, explained to me that his father had the honor of running the torch through a small town earlier in the run. He says that the torch run has been very popular in Australia. In just two days, the torch will be carried into the Olympic Stadium and the Games will officially begin. The U.S. wrestlers have missed all of this. The Greco-Roman team is three hours away in Canberra, training away from all the activity and distractions. The freestyle team has not even left the United States, going through processing in San Diego as we write. There are certain parts of the Olympic experience that the athletes will have no part of, as they focus on the task of winning medals for the United States. One thing is for sure, Australia is ready for the Games and the world has arrived in Sydney. The stage has been set.