Sydney: From Fiji to Ukraine, the millions of dollars pouring in from television rights have helped the Olympic movement create a level playing field for many athletes struggling to make ends meet.
Olympic Solidarity, which has a $122 million budget to nurture the stars of tomorrow, is in jubilant mood -- athletes helped by its scholarship schemes have won 20 gold medals in Sydney at the Millennium Games.
Their big star was Ukrainian swimmer Yana Klochkova who struck gold twice in the Olympic pool. "It's beyond what I can imagine," she said after her double triumph.
Namibian wrestlers were sent to train in Canada, Senegal's judo contenders went to hone their skills in Paris.
From Fijian windsurfer Tony Philp to Malaysian badminton player Ong Ewe Hock and Cuban boxer Filiberto Ascuy, this was a chance to fulfil their dreams on the world stage.
For, as former Olympic supremo Lord Killanin once acknowledged, "There is a very large gulf between the high performance athlete who stands on the podium to receive his gold medal and the school child emulating him on a tarmac yard in the back street or on the sands of a desert."
And now, with the television rights to future Games set to soar again, Olympic Solidarity has set its sights on boosting its budget in the four years to Athens 2004.
"Funds from television rights are increasing and 50 percent would be a very acceptable rise in our budget," Olympic Solidarity chief Pere Miro said on Friday.
He insisted that the athletes it helps are not just along for the ride. "These athletes are not tourists. They have the right to take part," he told a Sydney news conference.
But they have many mountains to climb on the way to the Olympics.Fearful that the Games could become too gigantic and unwieldy, the organisers have brought in tough qualifying standards and kept the ceiling for athletes participating to about 11,000.
Miro is well pleased with the results at Sydney.
Over the past four years, Olympic Solidarity had given scholarships to 632 athletes in 124 countries. Of those, 76 percent made it to the Olympics.
"Slowly, slowly they are coming on board and having excellent results, he said, paying rich tribute to Olympic Committees in the United States, Australia, Germany, Canada, Spain and France who helped out the athletes from poorer countries.
And in the year that the modern Olympics celebrated 100 years of women taking part in the Games, Miro said he was delighted to report that one in three of the athletes it helped were women.