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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | OPENING CEREMONY
| RANDY HARVEY

Down Wonders

With recognition of women's contributions, proper respect given to Aborigines and two Koreas marching as one, ceremony was correct in the correct way.

September 16, 2000|RANDY HARVEY

She dropped out of sight for a while, but she glittered again Friday, literally skipping around the track before handing the torch to hurdler Debbie Flintoff-King, who won a gold medal in Seoul in 1988. She handed off to Freeman.

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By then, it was hardly a surprise that she was the final torchbearer, the one to ignite the flame that will tower above the Olympic Stadium until the Oct. 1 closing ceremony.

Besides Coates' pronouncement that all of those to carry the torch inside the stadium would be women, much of the 1 1/2-hour cultural segment of the opening ceremony had been devoted to Aborigines, who, even though they were here at least 38,800 years before the English settlers arrived in 1788, aren't sure they're welcome.

That no longer applies to Freeman, who became the first Aborigine to win an Olympic medal four years ago in Atlanta with her second-place finish in the 400 meters. She is favored to win here.

If she does, Samaranch has agreed to allow her to carry the Aboriginal flag along with the Australian one on her victory lap. Six years ago, Australian track and field officials chastised her for carrying an Aboriginal flag during her victory lap at the Commonwealth Games.

Now, she can walk on water. Or at least that was the effect when Freeman, wearing a white bodysuit, ran up four sets of glowing white stairs at the end of the stadium, waded through a shallow pool of water toward a waterfall, ignited the flame and then calmly ran in place as a mechanical glitch--a hiccup, organizers called it--prevented the caldron from ascending to the top of the stadium for several minutes.

" . . . I would like to express our respect to those who have made Australia what it is today--a great country, with a special tribute to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people," Samaranch said in his remarks to the crowd.

It was an insertion of politics into sport, not so rare for the former Spanish diplomat Samaranch, but nonetheless painful for Australian Prime Minister John Howard. He and his conservative government have ensured that Aboriginal issues will remain in the forefront here by refusing to apologize for their treatment in the 200-plus years since the English arrived.

This has not been a particularly enjoyable time for Howard. He wanted to declare the Games open, but the organizers, who are of a more liberal bent, reminded him that he is not the head of state. That is Queen Elizabeth, whom Howard as a monarchist supports. So he could hardly argue when she chose her representative here, Governor-General Sir William Deane, for the honor.

Organizers claim they are not done with queens. Among the participants in the closing ceremony, as a tribute to the Australian film "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," are several transvestites.

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Randy Harvey can be reached at his e-mail address: randy.harvey@latimes.com.

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