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into the Australian way of life : DATELINE SYDNEY

Beautiful Triathlon Spot Has a Deadly History

September 15, 2000|RANDY HARVEY

SYDNEY, Australia — When women competitors dive into the chilly water to begin the first triathlon in Olympic history, also the first medal event in the 2000 Summer Olympics, they will probably have other things on their minds than the magnificence of Sydney Harbor.

Perhaps someday, in looking back on the experience, it will mean more to them that they began the competition in a venue that inspired English novelist Anthony Trollope in 1873 to write:

"I despire of being able to convey to any reader my own idea of the beauty of Sydney Harbour. I have seen nothing equal to it in the way of land-locked sea scenery. . . . It is so inexpressibly lovely that it makes man ask himself whether it would not be worth his while to move his household goods to the eastern coast of Australia, in order that he might look at it as long as he can look at anything."

While the 22-square-mile drowned river valley might have caused Trollope's heart to skip a beat, Sydney Harbor also has been associated with heartbreak.

In 1857, 121 died when the captain of the Dunbar miscalculated the entrance to the harbor and ran the clipper into the lower cliffs of The Gap. The only surviving crew member, James Johnson, clung to a ledge for 36 hours before he was rescued. Two months later, 21 died when another clipper, Catherine Adamson, wrecked.

On May 31, 1942, Sydney was attacked from the harbor by three Japanese midget submarines. One was sunk before it released a torpedo, another exploded after becoming entangled in anti-submarine nets and the third mysteriously disappeared. Extensive searches with metal detectors have uncovered only small pieces of debris.

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