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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | STAFF MEMORIES
| RANDY HARVEY

Unlike the Tardy Peacock, Sydney Has Room to Crow

October 02, 2000|RANDY HARVEY

SYDNEY, Australia — The winner is Syd-e-ny.

Those were Juan Antonio Samaranch's words in Monte Carlo in 1993 when he announced the International Olympic Committee's choice for the site of the 2000 Summer Olympics, and, seven years later, they ring even more true today than they did then.

The winner is indeed Sydney.

It was revealed at the height (depth?) of the Salt Lake City scandal last year that promises of a financial nature were made by Sydney bidders to two IOC voters on the eve of the vote in Monte Carlo. All I have to say about that now is that bribery is not necessarily a bad thing.

As historically significant as it might have been for these Games to have been in Beijing, which--coincidentally, I'm sure--lost by two votes in '93, there is little chance that the Chinese would have done as well as the Australians have.

Atlanta certainly didn't four years ago.

IOC executives here have remarked that their daily 8:30 a.m. coordination sessions with organizers in Atlanta routinely lasted at least 90 minutes as they tried to solve problems, while those sessions here sometimes have taken less than 10 minutes.

One day, the only item on the agenda was to discuss the echo emanating from the sound system at the equestrian center. One day, the session was canceled entirely.

Sydney's organizing committee performed better than any has for a Summer Games since Los Angeles', which had to deal with considerably fewer sports, venues, athletes, officials and media.

City officials are also to be congratulated, if for no other reason because they learned a lesson from history--Mussolini, actually--that everyone will be happy if the trains run on time.

The true champions, however, were the people. Usually by the end of the second week of an Olympics, it's apparent that the locals have had as good a time as anyone at their party but now they can't wait for everyone to go home. That wasn't true here. Sydneysiders remained perfect hosts to the end.

Acts of random kindness were epidemic. My favorite concerned two photographers who barely missed their train from Olympic Park back to the city. (Who would have believed it was going to leave on time every time?) An attendant at the station called his boss, said he would be out of touch for 45 minutes and drove the photographers to their hotel.

"Remember, these are the Friendly Games," blared the announcement about every 10 minutes from the Olympic Park station public address system. "We are a friendly people. Remember as you visit the park to say, 'G'day.' "

Just like the subway stop in the Bronx next to Yankee Stadium, right?

*

The loser is NBC.

At least that's what I hear from family and friends in the States who watched as much coverage as they could tolerate. We, of course, didn't see any here, but I'm counting on catching up when I return with some events that the network still hasn't shown yet. (Wait until you see this guy Ian Thorpe in the swimming.)

I have two suggestions for NBC in regard to future Summer Olympics.

One is to take a percentage of the

$100 million or so the network spends on production costs and divert it to USA Gymnastics.

If one reason for lower television ratings, as the network claims, is that the United States didn't have the new Mary Lou or another Magnificent Seven, then NBC should help produce some gold-medal gymnasts.

The least the network could do is recruit the 16-year-old Romanian, Andreea Raducan, as a free agent. With the lax drug-testing system we have in our country, she'd never get caught.

The other suggestion: NBC, which has the rights to all Olympics--winter and summer-- through 2008, should do whatever is necessary to broadcast as many events as possible live, or at least plausibly live.

Dick Ebersol, the head of NBC Sports, made his bones in the business by creating "Saturday Night Live." Live! He should never forget that.

He argued that it was impossible to do live from Sydney because of the time difference between here and the States, but, as we saw Saturday, that wasn't always true. The network called a late audible and televised the men's basketball final live to the Eastern and Central time zones.

After paying $705 million for the rights, Ebersol could have used his influence to have some other events that Americans like, especially on weekends, scheduled for prime time in the United States.

He chose not to because he thought he could sell an entirely taped Olympics to audiences. Maybe he knows better now and won't try it again if, as expected, the Games go in 2008 to Beijing, which also is on the other side of the world from the United States.

Then again, maybe there will be nothing he can do by then to lure viewers. Because of drugs, corruption and commercialization, the Olympic ideal has been severely tarnished.

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