(a quick Olympic nip)

18 Sep 2000
Fly from Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea to Brisbane, Australia.

Somewhere on the flight the Olympic bug must have bitten me. It seemed absurd to be this far from home, and so close to the games, but not to be going. My assumption was that all the good tickets were sold and all the flights booked, but we decided to at least go through the motions of finding out.

We waited two hours in a queue with all the other last-minute optimists before finally facing off with the guy at the ticket computer. We only have a three-day window where it might be possible to visit Sydney, so our selection of events is limited. My first choice, the women's 10-meter platform diving preliminaries, is sold out, as are our second, third, fourth, and fifth choices.

I'm just about to give up, when as a lark I toss out, "How about gymnastics, are there any seats for that?" They are ridiculously expensive, but the men's all-around finals is a much higher profile event than we had any right to expect, so we quickly snap them up and go in search of a flight that might get us there in time.

Another ridiculous sum onto the Visa card and we are set to go for men's gymnastics on Sep 20. We fly down the morning of the 20th, see the event that night and then fly back on the evening of the 21st. The only missing ingredient in this plan is accommodation, which I've been told is an impossibility. Oh well, I guess we'll just have to party all night or sleep on the beach. I'm sure it will work out somehow, it always does!

19 Sep 2000
Errand hell in Brisbane.

20 Sep 2000
Up at 4 a.m. for our flight to Sydney and the Olympics.
Olympic Fever

As a child, the Olympics were a huge event in my family. I can remember many a late night staring into the TV, all the usual rules suspended.

As an adolescent I lost my way a bit, but springboard diving managed to steer me into the teenage-caste of "jock" instead of what I'd then been careening towards, "statistic."

I still lose the way a fair bit, but diving got me on the path to a good education which led to good jobs, and the chance to walk away from it all and really lose myself, at least for a while.

It's impossible to know how much of that started watching Greg Louganis on the 10-meter platform in Montreal, but getting off the plane and seeing all the signs for the "Olympic Family," I felt the ache of broken dreams, softened only a bit by time and experience.

We'd been told it would be impossible to find a place to stay, and came prepared to sleep on the streets, but one phone call put that idea to rest.

The first hostel we tried had a room and we quickly snapped it up at only 20% above the usual price.

In King's Cross, Sydney's center for low-end accommodation, we found that almost all the places had a few vacancies. The price gouging fears must have put off the budget travelers, because the bunk beds typically occupied by 20-something backpackers were being snapped up by families of four desperately in search of anything.

With a huge worry off our minds and minus only AUS$60 and a few grim-travel karma points (I have lots to spare), we headed out into the city.

Sydney is always a pleasant city, and for the Olympics they really made it special. The parks and open squares all had either live entertainment or huge screens showing events and the streets were full of Aussies covered head to toe in green and gold.

The city buzzed with excitement and muffled roars as events were broadcast, but it still felt somehow restrained. There wasn't the crazed exuberance I'd expected and even feared a bit.

Oh no, we're officially tourists!
We'd been told to allow three hours for the trip from the city to Olympic Park, so after a quick bit of shopping and a posh lunch down in The Rocks we began to make our way.

Like most of the other negatives, the reports on the transportation problems were way overblown. What we'd allotted three hours for took 20 minutes, and we quickly found ourselves in the park posing with the torch like all the other tourists.

Olympic Park is a huge complex, several stadiums and arenas spread over many square kilometers and home to large portion of the events as well as the athletes' village. We spent the afternoon wondering around and just soaking up the atmosphere.

Everyone associated with the Olympics wears a big badge around their neck and it's an event in itself trying to pick out the athletes without appearing too much the paparazzi. It's great fun trying to guess the countries and sports, and there are even designated "meeting zones" for social Olympians to hang out and meet the Joneses.

You'd think after a few days the athletes would be tired of all the attention, but we didn't see any of them be other than kind and gracious. In fact, despite all the pressure of it being "The Olympics," the entire event and everyone we met associated with it, had a warm friendly and feeling. It was a very nice vibe and quite different than other high-end sporting events I've been to.

Fatigued from the 4 a.m. start to our day we caught a shady little nap before heading off to our event:

We chose this event, the men's all-around finals, because it was the only thing I'd heard of that still had tickets available. For the uninitiated (and that would be us), it's probably something better watched on TV, but it was still fascinating to see live.

The competitors are divided into six groups, one for each apparatus. In each rotation, all members of the group perform on one piece of equipment and then the groups switch for the next rotation.

I was amazed at how nationalist and boisterous the crowd was. There were large contingents of American, Chinese, and Japanese fans in addition to all the Australians. As a competitor from one of the represented countries would perform, that section of the stadium would erupt with fans screaming encouragement.

I'd always thought of gymnastics as sort of a quiet and polite sport, but the athletes seemed to take energy from the cheering and not get distracted.

  Floor + Vault + Parallel Bars =
Chaos (for Evan)
I, on the other hand, was completely distracted. Gymnasts perform on all six apparatus simultaneously and it was impossibly hard to keep track of where the most interesting thing was going on.

I'd be watching a pommel horse routine while keeping an eye out for one of the leaders coming up on the vault, but then get distracted by someone's high bar dismount. Turning back I'd realize I missed the vault and the screen with score for the pommel routine I'd be watching had already spun out of view. Welcome to live gymnastics.

The winner is the gymnast with the highest cumulative score from each apparatus, but the scoreboards only fleetingly flashed awards and sane totals were available only between rotations. You'd need a truck full of abacuses to really keep track of who was where in the scoring and I came away amazed at the polished TV productions of these events.

Although an American briefly rose to third, the contest was dominated by the Russian, Nemov. He was ahead the whole night and even my untrained eye could see that his performances were consistently better than anyone else's. His only bobble was a step on his vault landing that the judges didn't seem to penalize him for. This drew the only sour note of the evening when, I'm sad to say, some American ninny, felt the need to scream out, "Merry Christmas Nemov."

Despite being overtly partisan, the crowd cheered loudly for any exceptional performance, and even louder for any athlete that was struggling. By far the warmest rounds of applause were reserved for those gymnasts that fell, but then got back up to finish their routines, the moments you don't usually see on big TV.

The event ended as suddenly as it began, chaos over, scores tallied, Nemov the winner.

A tear rolled down my eye as they set up the pedestals. From our seats they looked like cheap plastic toyboxes, but a lifetime's achievement to stand on one. Nemov, stoic all night, was ebullient at the ceremony, waving to the crowd, showing off his medal, and I'm sure, as Tuk and I had done earlier, just trying to soak in as much of the atmosphere as possible.

Our Olympic moment over, we caught a late train back to King's Cross to wander past all the strip clubs before finally finding dinner at an all-night Korean Barbeque.

21 Sep 2000
We were tossed out of our hotel at 9 a.m., so with time to kill we pierced Tuk's navel before doing some more shopping and going to see the usual Sydney tourist spots, the opera house, AMP tower, etc...

There seems to be some discord in Australia about daylight savings time, so by the clock, our 8 p.m. flight landed just a few minutes after taking off and we were soon back at our Brisbane hostel.

A mere 40 hours elapsed and weary as all hell, but our Olympic fever sated.

22 Sep 2000
More errand hell in Brisbane.

23 Sep 2000
I'm off to Fiji to do an Instructor Development Course, two weeks of intensive training on the way to becoming a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor.

Hey wait a second... Aren't they having a war in Fiji?

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