When commercialisation goes too 'bloody' far

Published: Monday, September 4, 2000, 18:23 [IST]

Today the son who used to run alongside as a guide while his blind father ran marathons fulfilled that dream. Such is the power of the Olympic flame. After travelling across the world from its home in Olympia in Greece, and - by happy inspiration - visiting New Zealand and island-hopping through the South Pacific, the flame has made a vast tour of Australia. It now moves into its final journey towards Sydney.

The torch relay has surely been purged of its unhappy associations of its modern origin -- the unfortunate propaganda blitz at Hitler's Berlin Olympics in 1936. It is now firmly associated with the central ideal of the modern Olympics, which is to enhance peace and amity among all nations.

Each nation has its own way of presenting the relay. Australia's torch relay, the longest ever both on its indirect journey from Olympia and, once here, around Australia, reinforces the relay's symbolism of inclusiveness and openness to the world.

If there has been criticism of the torch relay for the 2000 Olympics it has been that it has been too ambitious, too long and too stage-managed. To cover the vast distances of the present route the flame has been put on aircraft, in motor vehicles or on trains.

It has been taken on horseback and, bizarrely, under water. These colourful departures are welcome. The torch relay is not a race.

The long journey of the flame has ensured that it has touched far more people than ever before. It will have travelled 27,000 kilometres, visiting every State, by the time it arrives in Sydney next week.

Not everyone will be able to attend the Games. But, through the torch relay, a great many people, often in places very far from Sydney, will be able to say they caught the spirit.

The pulse quickens as the Sydney Games at last become a reality, seen in the new light, as it were, by the flame.

This is how it begins…

It is the morning after the Opening Ceremony of Sydney's Olympics. Now the first gold medal is up for grabs. After all the years of preparation and planning, all the controversies about bands and tickets and swimsuits and torches, the athletes have the stage at last.

On the first day of competition in a new era for the Olympics, the first Games of the new millennium, it is fitting that the athletes are all women and their event has never before been contested at the Games.

It is the triathlon - a 1.5 km swim, followed immediately by a 40 km bicycle ride and 10km run. The course is on Sydney Harbour, winding around landmarks like the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Opera House.

Along most of the route, spectators will be able to watch the athletes for free. And they will be there in their thousands. Why? Because the race signifies that, after all the years of build-up, the real thing has arrived; because the event combines three sports in which Australians have traditionally excelled: swimming, riding, and running. And because Australia expects to begin the Games among the medals.

Six of the world's top 10 women triathletes are Australians. They also dominate rankings in the men's event, which will be held on the second day of the Games. In a nation with a history much briefer than any other host country, an event that has been contested for only 27 years (compared to thousands of years for the other debutante Olympic event, taekwando) will provide the first medals.

Professional Management Group

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