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He Thinks He Received Best End of the Trade

October 02, 2000|ALAN ABRAHAMSON

SYDNEY, Australia — I've been writing full time about the Olympic movement for almost two years now, but this was my first Olympic Games and I suppose it was to be expected that I simply wouldn't understand.

But what in the world is with the pin-trading thing?

It's like trafficking in Russian rubles. So what if you can get 10,000 of them? They're worth nothing. Last I looked, one pin and $3.50 gets you a latte at Starbucks.

Instead of pins, I'm taking home a bunch of memories from one of the greatest months of my life. (Note to gracious and understanding wife and to three beautiful children: I really have missed you. Added note to wife: You are a hero.)

To begin, Sydney is beautiful.

I wish each of you the chance to go to Circular Quay, to look out at the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House and the green-and-yellow ferries chugging away. The planet does not afford many nicer views.

Unless, of course, it's the scenery at Bondi Beach. As a 25-year-old surfer, a longtime Bondi regular, put it in one of the stories I wrote, "Oh, yeah, plenty of optics."

Australian English is a remarkable thing. By age 3, Australian girls have mastered the art of turning the simple declarative, "No!" into a three-syllable singsong.

One of the best things about traveling to faraway places--and, Lord knows, Australia is far away, especially in coach on Qantas (Hello, Tribune Co.? May I suggest business class for overseas flights?)--is the food.

Here are my Aussie finds:

Kangaroo prosciutto. Salty, chewy and almost no cholesterol.

And, moving rapidly now to dessert or an after-hours snack, Tim Tams--a chocolate wafer dipped in chocolate.

The local way to enjoy a Tim Tam is to bite off a corner at opposing ends of the rectangular cookie, dunk it in hot coffee and suck the coffee through the chocolate.

I found that pretty much any way worked while writing at 3 in the morning.

That we were at work well into the early-morning hours amused my Aussie journo friends to no end. Sydney newspapers--aggressive, parochial, occasionally even really good--amused me to no end.

Favorite headline from the Games: When France's Marie-Jose Perec abruptly fled Sydney before a much-anticipated confrontation in the 400 meters with Australian track icon Cathy Freeman, the Daily Telegraph's front-page headline screamed, "Mademoiselle La Chicken."

Second favorite: Last Thursday, in a fit of America-bashing over the issue of doping in sports, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a huge front-page photo over which was superimposed, in big letters, a headline reading, "Drugs: America Under Pressure." The picture was of Romanian gymnast Andreea Raducan. Oops.

You have to have a thick skin in Australia. Their public discourse is rough and tumble. Their satire is not politically correct. Virtually every night of "The Dream," the Seven Network's nightly two-hour wrap-up of Olympic highlights--featuring hosts Roy Slaven and H.G. Nelson but starring the stuffed mascot, Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat--was a highlight unto itself.

Would we dare in the States--as they did on "The Dream"--air Greco-Roman wrestling accompanied only by the sensuous sounds of Barry White and The Love Unlimited Orchestra?

Somebody, please: Get this crew a gig in the States.

I once heard you can tell a great deal about a nation's character by seeing what's on sale at souvenir shops. Here you can find pouches made of kangaroo leather. The leather comes from male kangaroos who are either now very dead and don't care or are very unhappy because they're now eunuchs. If you get what I mean. The pouches, which I was told make a handy change purse, are sold in a package that reads, "I'm Roo'nd."

Is it any surprise IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch declared these Games the best ever?

Yes, there were drug controversies. Trust me, there are more to come.

And the performance of the bus system was crummy. One horrible early-morning ride took

1 hour 45 minutes for what should have been a 25-minute trip from Olympic Park to downtown. We were out in the middle of nowhere. Literally, we discovered, when we passed a restaurant named "Middle of Nowhere."

But the trains generally worked fine, the weather was mostly sunny, and it was my great privilege to be on hand for some truly magical moments:

I'll remember Cathy Freeman lighting the torch and the two Koreas marching as one in the opening ceremony. Freeman winning the 400 meters. Michael Johnson winning the men's 400.

And more: Stacy Dragila winning the inaugural Olympic women's pole vault. Dain Blanton and Eric Fonoimoana, two Southern California guys, on their way to gold in beach volleyball. Houston's Kay Poe losing in the first round in taekwondo and her best friend, Esther Kim, saying it didn't matter: "No one is let down. She did a great job."

You'll excuse me if I take my leave because I've been working on about four hours' sleep per night for a month. Mind you, I'm not complaining. But I may be hallucinating.

I could swear I was at a news conference in Sydney, half a world away from Los Angeles, and in walked Johnnie Cochran.

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