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into the Australian way of life: : DATELINE MELBOURNE

Museum in Melbourne a Showcase for the Games

September 21, 2000|GRAHAME L. JONES

Vassilios is a 50-something Greek-Australian taxi driver working in Melbourne. Never mind his last name, it's neither important nor pronounceable, although it would be useful to come to grips with Greek names before Athens 2004.

In any event, Vassilios is not a fan of these Olympics, even though the Games originated in his homeland.

"It's all big business now," he said the other day. "They don't have the same character anymore."

Maybe, maybe not. But a visit to the Australian Gallery of Sport and Olympic Museum in Melbourne could perhaps transport Vassilios back to the olive trees and laurel wreaths of his Greek youth.

The museum has an entire floor devoted to an intriguing collection of Olympic paraphernalia from Games past.

He could see, for example, the discus heaved by Al Oerter while winning four gold medals in a row between 1956 and 1968.

Or there's the pair of black custom-made running spikes worn by Chris Chataway, one of the leading 5,000-meter runners of the 1950s.

One of the more unusual exhibits is a glass bottle containing some of the surface of the Melbourne track used in 1956. Fans apparently leaped over a fence after the closing ceremony and scooped up handfuls of the stuff to keep as a souvenir.

You have to wonder how fast Megan Quann would be swimming in 2000 if she were encumbered by the type of swimsuit worn at the 1920 Antwerp Games. And only in Australia, surely, would a German Olympic team beer stein from 1956 be given a place of honor in a museum.

A commemorative medal from the 1904 St. Louis Olympics will appeal to American visitors, who can also see some real gold medals, such as those won in '92 and '96 by rower James Tomkins of Australia's "Oarsome Foursome" crew.

And, tying yesterday to today, there are the black spikes, trimmed with pink and yellow, that were worn by the silver medalist in the women's 400 meters at the Atlanta Games.

Of course, Cathy Freeman is somewhat better known now.

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