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A Bridge Too Fun

Climbing Isn't Even a Demonstration Sport, but Tour Guide on Sydney Harbor Bridge Is Demonstrative


SYDNEY, Australia — In the spirit of cutting-edge journalism, we bring you the bridge climb.

Other newspapers are here to cover sports that already have Olympic status. That's easy. Go to the event. Watch what happens. Go to the news conference. Listen as the athletes mouth cliches. Write down the cliches, send them home to the readers and go to dinner on expense account.

But not your L.A. Times. We innovate. We think outside the box. We synergize.

We go climb a bridge.

The reasoning is that there are only a few sports left that are not Olympic sports. And if synchronized swimming, rhythmic gymnastics and horse dancing (dressage) are in, with ballroom dancing, Nerfball bowling and NASCAR racing soon to be, how long can it be until climbing steps up, so to speak?

The possibilities are unlimited. Can't you just see Juan Antonio Samaranch and mountain-climbing author Jon Krakauer at the summit of Everest, lighting the Olympic torch? When they are done, Jon can head on down, stepping over the bodies on the way, and Juan Antonio can wait for the limo. NBC will invent this great new camera to capture it all and then tape-delay it for next April.

Being cognizant of Olympic procedures, we thought that climbing might need a gradual introduction, a kind of a demonstration-sport approach. Where better to do that than the oft-climbed, ever-popular Sydney Harbor Bridge? Our reasoning? If we climb it, and write about it, they will come. Especially Juan and Jon.

And so we did here one recent morning, following in the footsteps of many greats, among them Nicole Kidman (April 23, 1999), the Playboy bunnies (March 19, 2000) and 100-year-old Chris Muller (July 6, 1999).

Famed Australian distance runner Herb Elliott climbed the bridge with an unlit newly designed Sydney torch in February 1999, and NBC's Matt Lauer climbed it a few days ago while Katie Couric cuddled a kangaroo. (Say that 10 times real fast).

Rick Majerus, basketball coach at the University of Utah, climbed it a couple of summers ago and celebrated the reports of no structural damage by eating a Chinese restaurant. (No, there's not a word missing in that sentence.)

The day of the climb dawned bright and sunny, even though a dark and stormy night would have made for a better story. There were 12 of us in the group, a dirty dozen of sorts, and once we got past the half-hour of clips and gadgets and harnesses and special climbing suits and special instructions, all designed to make us feel as if we were going to Everest, we were off. But not exactly into thin air. Our summit would be slightly less than 500 feet, and the air would be fine.

In our group was one other man from the United States, Andrew, who'd had a role in the construction of a special practice court for the U.S. volleyball teams here, and who lives in Austin, Texas, but kept saying he was from Cleveland. Go figure.

There was a group of six from a shipbuilding company in Tasmania, the island 700 miles southeast of here with a population of 460,000, which we told them was about the size of Palm Springs in January.

The four other guys were obviously from Australia or Boston because we couldn't understand a word they said.

Our climb leader, a young man named Adam, said he has a band named Hover, which he added will start hitting the charts next Valentine's Day. Again, go figure.

Adam excelled at harness-hooking, sightseeing narration and storytelling.

The climb was scheduled to take three hours, and it did. We climbed for 15 minutes and had pictures taken, gawked at the view and listened to Adam's stories for 2 hours 45 minutes.

The views were spectacular. Across the way was Sydney Opera House, now with bright blue bleachers around it for the men's and women's triathlons. Below was a harbor full of boats, crisscrossing and darting about. If it had been dry land, it would have been the Ventura Freeway.

To the north and east were the beaches of Australian legend, Manly and Bondi, and to the west was Homebush Bay and Olympic Park, with the massive main Olympic Stadium, some 20 miles away by direct line, still poking up for notice on the horizon.

Directly behind as we climbed was downtown Sydney, with its Circular Quay (pronounced key) and its adjacent harbors, each dominated by massive cruise ships. Some of them are here to house the thousands of NBC staffers who will bring the Sydney Games to the viewers of the United States on tape delay, assumably sometime before the medal winners die of old age.

Sydney is a high-rise, waterfront city similar to Chicago. But to match Sydney's visual aura, Chicago would have to park massive cruise ships on Michigan Avenue.

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