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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | STAFF MEMORIES
/ MIKE PENNER

Time to Let Games Sleep In

October 02, 2000|MIKE PENNER

SYDNEY, Australia — After so many days in Sydney I can no longer sneeze straight, your congested chronicler has found that cold medicine mixed with sleep deprivation followed by a daily chaser of bad pressroom food can cause Aussie flashbacks.

Cathy Freeman: She lit up the Olympic caldron and the women's 400-meter final and left behind a textbook on Olympic athletic etiquette every member of Team USA needs to memorize before Athens 2004. Now, Marie-Jose Perec wants to race her in Qatar. Better yet, have Cathy race her in Perec's hometown. So that, you know, she'd be a Freeman in Paris.

Ian Thorpe: Half man, half dolphin, all Australian hero. The Aussies have a song about him, sung to the tune of "New York, York": "Start spreadin' the news/He's swimmin' today/He's gonna win the lot of it/Ian Thorpe, Ian Thorpe." Actually, the Aussies have two songs about him, but the other one can't be repeated here. Thorpey has big feet, you know.

Marion Jones: The Drive for Five got downsized to the Spree for Three, and l'affaire C.J. must have felt like lead weights strapped to her ankles. But Jones seemed to draw strength from adversity, carrying herself with poise in defeat and making serious noise with the feet. And that third leg of the 1,600 relay? Cathy, be glad Marion chose the long jump instead of the 400.

Tatiana Grigorieva: Kournikova for grown-ups.

Maurice Greene: Will the fastest American in Sydney please take the flag away from Bernard Williams?

Olyroos, Hockeyroos, Socceroos, Kookaburras, Matildas, Boomers, Opals: The Australians have so many colorful, creative nicknames for their Olympic teams. They even have one for ours. Damn Yankees.

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!: I was going to say the Australians could use some work on their all-purpose, all-aggravating sporting chant. Like try something original. Until I heard a bunch of damn Yankees chanting, "USA! USA! USA! Oi! Oi! Oi!"

"The Dream": Forget collectible pins and soft-toy echidnas. The most-requested take-home Sydney souvenir--and, unfortunately, not available yet--was a boxed set of videotape highlights of Seven's satirical late-night Olympic wrap-up show, the runaway hit of the Games. Funny, but before the Olympics there was some doubt as to whether hosts Roy and H.G. could make the jump from radio to television. The question now: Can they make the jump to the prime minister's office?

Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat: "The Dream's" cartoon mascot was a true Olympic hero--knocking SOCOG's too-cute Olly, Millie and Syd off the podium, nearly getting banned by the Australian Olympic Committee, even enabling Yank sportswriters to get the phrase "Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat" into the newspaper.

Underdogs: Aussies love them, which explained the instant cult-hero status assigned Eric the Eel Moussambani, the Equatorial Guinea Pig of Olympic swimming. An Australian journalist was explaining this appealing national trait to me during the 400 hurdles competition when a Japanese competitor tripped over a hurdle and went clattering off the track. "Poor bugger!" the Aussie exclaimed with genuine sadness. "Would've made the final too."

Trains: At the 1998 World Cup, I spent a month on trains going all over France. At the 1996 Olympics, I spent a month on trains going nowhere in Atlanta. At the 2000 Olympics, I spent a month on trains going overboard on "Waltzing Matilda" and "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!"

Rulon Gardner: The new U.S. star of Greco-Roman wrestling. Which reminds me: Do you know what Greco-Romans call U.S. wrestling? Same thing we call it. WWF.

U.S. men's 400-meter relay team: Definitely too much WWF on the TV after baton practice for those youngsters.

Volunteers: Like us, they succumbed to battle fatigue midway throughout the second week. Day One: "Open your bags, pull out your pockets, walk through the metal detector, hold out your arms and we'll run this Geiger counter all over you." Day 10: "Aw, you look OK to me, mate. Go on through."

Michael Johnson: Pre-Sydney: Arrogant, imperious legend in his own mind. Post-Sydney: U.S. elder statesman for our time.

Meat pies: Tasty Australian treats, but they should come with owner's manuals. Tomato sauce is ketchup, tomato sauce goes inside not on top, can't be too hot, can't be too cold, never order them a la mode.

Andreea Raducan: Tiny Romanian gymnast was stripped of a gold medal for taking cold medicine. IOC, how do you sleep?

Bela Karolyi: The Tom Lasorda of Olympic gymnastics. So sorry he couldn't carry Kerri this time.

Tom Lasorda: The Bela Karolyi of Olympic baseball. So give the Dodger codger a gold medal already.

Women's pole vault: A sport with a future, NBC would have to agree. More beautiful women out on this runway than Yves St. Laurent's.

Drugs: In Athens, just hand out two sets of medals. "Clean" and "Juiced to the Gills."

Opening ceremony lawn mowers: Memo to Aussie e-mail writers: We got the joke the first time. But when Americans want to mock their suburban lives, they just fire up the barbecue.

Lance Armstrong: From Tour de France to Third for Lance.

U.S. basketball: You know it's bad when the French players are calling the Americans arrogant.

Daily Telegraph: Rupert Murdoch's tabloid had an Olympic editorial edict: All Aussies, all the time. I haven't seen so much green and gold since my last trip to Lambeau Field. No discouraging words, either, for Our Boys and Our Girls. Tony Tavares should relocate the Angels and the Ducks here immediately. Potential Telegraph headline: "Our plucky, unlucky Duckeroos pipped by Red Wings, 6-1."

Sharks: None of them had tickets to triathlon, to the everlasting good fortune of dozens of triathletes. There was, however, a Greg Norman sighting at the closing ceremony.

Bogong moths: If we had this problem in the States, we'd just send in the Orkin man. Here, they cracked a few eggs, added some garlic, some olive oil, and whipped up bogong omelets.

Vegemite: I'd rather eat a bogong moth.

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