Show of brotherhood, flaming cauldron at Olympics

SYDNEY, Australia - This singular land Down Under burst upon the world Friday, opening the 2000 Summer Olympics with a thunder of hoofbeats, wild fantasy, blazing color, and booming cheers from a moist-eyed crowd.

Aussies and visitors alike dabbed repeatedly at their eyes from the rush of stirring sights and sounds. And once, it was for a display of Olympian brotherhood: Koreans coming together.

In a spectacular finale, Cathy Freeman, an Aborigine runner out for gold, lit an Olympic ring of fire against a surprise sudden backdrop of cascading water.

The seemingly endless parade of athletes and coaches, at 12,000 the largest number at any Olympics, came from 200 points on the map, a mix of countries, territories and nations.

North and South Korea marched together under a single flag, a blue outline of their land symbolically united for the first time in nearly half a century. A full stadium of 110,000 people rose to cheer them.

Athletes from the two halves walked side by side, hands held high in touching triumph. An electrical current of emotion swept the stadium, bringing some to tears.

Strong applause welcomed the Americans, 600 of them in white cowboy hats set at jaunty angles.

But the real thunder came at the end, to chants of ''Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.'' The local hopefuls seemed to stride on air. They mugged for the crowd. Each had a yellow kangaroo to toss high into the stands.

And throughout it all, the leitmotif was Australia's own way to say hello: ''G'Day.'' It was emblazoned on a blimp. It was painted on a huge colorful banner that reached from the high seats down to the field.

Even Juan Antonio Samaranch said it at the start of his brief address. Moments later, the head of the International Olympic Committee touched the clear theme of Australia's multicultural opening extravaganza.

''I would like to express our respect to those who have made Australia what it is today - a great country,'' he said, ''with a special tribute to the aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.''

In a prelude, John Williamson sang ''Waltzing Matilda,'' slow and haunting, and sent goose bumps up the aisles. Then the cameras switched on to relay the show to billions around the world.

A lone rider galloped out on a chestnut stallion, in Outback hat and long caped oilskin stockmen's coat, to the music of ''A Man From Snowy River.''

Then 120 more followed, blue Olympic rings snapping on white flags they held aloft. With perfect precision, they crisscrossed again and again at high speed.

After the national anthem, the riders exchanged the Olympic banners for Australia's Union Jack on a deep blue field of Southern Cross stars. They circled again, and the crowd went wild.

Australia, normally tucked out of sight, seized its moment to depict its colorful history, from the indigenous ''dreaming'' of creation to a hopeful future view of varied cultures in a seamless society.

The story was spun out in the reverie of a curly blonde 13-year-old, Nikki Webster, who dozed off on a beach towel. Suddenly, she was somersaulting high above the field, on wires, among giant jellyfish and whimsical sea creatures.

With a blue fabric sea undulating below and lights playing above, the effect was a three-dimensional Great Barrier Reef in the heart of Sydney.

The ''Hero Girl'' fell behind as she swam with the fantasy fishes, and dropped terrified into a band of Aborigines. But they took her to Djakapurra the Songman, who sprinkled her with magical dust.

Together, they watched Australia take shape.

Aborigines gathered for a corroboree, a powwow in ceremonial paint, with drums, didgeridoos and clacking sticks, under clouds of cleansing smoke. Stiltwalkers, mischievous spirits, strode among them.

Then a dramatic boom of fireworks in the new stadium's soaring steel eaves signified that a new land had been born.

Fire engulfed the field, heat-tempering symbolic soil. Each of the 220 human Molotov cocktails spewed flames high into the air, spitting fuel lighted by their torches.

Nature sprouted a riot of flowers and jungle, with glittering gold eucalyptus trees rising among the rich reds of flora found only in the land of Oz.

A segment called Tin Symphony brought the Europeans and their hardware, starting with Captain Cook's ship. Odd bits of metal shaped into shacks. A giant steel horse tilted into a windmill.

The pageant was laced with insider lore. Black boxy characters depicted armor fashioned by Ned Kelly, a beloved bandit, a Robin Hood who stole from the rich and kept it.

In one corner of the 10-ring circus, traditional woodchoppers working high up in the air, whacked through thick upright logs.

Final segments showed Australia's new arrivals blending into a rainbow of no particular color. Teen-age hoofers tap-danced, coming onto the field from high up the stands, which echoed with their energy.

Cardboard cartons began to bounce, and they were suddenly sheep. These morphed into men pushing power mowers through suburbia.

Hand in hand, Hero Girl and the Songman stood above a field of roiling color, as the cast of 12,600 - fish, flowers, fire-breathers - danced a rousing climax.

Then came the pomp. A 2,000-member marching band, drawn from around the world, played a stirring ''Chariots of Fire'' and, of course, a few spirited bars of ''Waltzing Matilda.''

Freeman's finale stole the show. Until the last moment, all Australia wondered who would light the giant flame and how he, or she, would do it. The choice of an Aborigine and a beloved team member brought yet another loud cheer.

She wore a stylish white body suit, climbing brilliantly lit white stairs with the Olympic torch held high. Before her, a waterfall splashed down a wide aisle from the top of the stadium.

Freeman stood in a shallow pool and touched it with flame. A great circular cauldron rose up around her. It wobbled and, for several anxious minutes, it stopped. The glitch fixed, it ascended to appreciative gasps.

The stainless steel cauldron was fluted to shed water as it rose from the pool, giving the impression that Freeman was sinking as the gas flame shot higher.

Ric Birch, director of ceremonies, explained later that he conceived the idea six years ago and that at least 1,000 people had kept the details secret. Even with a ''slight hiccup,'' he said, he was thrilled with it all.

''Wasn't it fantastic?'' effused Carol-Angela Orchard, a Canadian gymnastics coach. ''It was brilliant, the mix of fire and water. It just took my breath away. I was in tears. I mean, how original is that?''


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment