The Best of Summer - 4th Place: Sydney 2000

On the evening of October, 1st, 2000, Juan Antonio Samaranch one final time used the closing ceremony of an Olympic Games to called them "the best ever". The outgoing president of the International Olympic Comitee had said this many times before. On this night, many TV viewers all over the world may have agreed with him for the first time.

Even if Sydney didn't see the best Games in history, at least they were brilliant, because more than anything else,  they were Australian. The country is one of the few having participated in all Summer Olympics since 1896, her genuine love for sports is legendary and was also the big story of Sydney 2000. The huge crowds and the fantastic atmosphere created a stark contrast to the heavily commercial 1996 Atlanta edition.

Furthermore, the "Games of the New Millenium" - as the local organisers had dubbed them - raised world wide attention for the aboriginal heritage of Australia. When 400 meters runner Cathy Freeman lit the Olympic flame and took home the gold in front of 115,000 roaring spectators, it was the moment when Australia for the first time seemed to come to terms with her own, often neglected past. Without doubt, it was one of the most emotional moments in any Olmpic Games:


Besides the Freeman saga, Sydney saw the re-birth of Down Under as a swimming powerhouse. Aussies had ruled the pool from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, featuring icons like Murray Rose, Dawn Fraser,  the Konrads siblings, or Shane Gould.  In the Bassin at Homebush Bay, they rolled over the rest of the world, led by Ian Thorpe. He one two golds on the first day of competition,  including the 4 x 1000 Meter freestyle relay. The United States had always won this event from its inception in 1960, with the exception of the boycott Games in 1980 at Moscow. Before the race,  American swimmer Gary Hall Jr had boasted, hid team was going to "smash the Australians like guitars". When  the hometown boys had won the race and broken tell world record, they played air guitar on the starting block. No wonder the crowd went  wild (picture: The Australian).

But even for the "Thorpedo", not everything went perfect. In the 200 meters freestyle, he lost out to Dutch Pieter van den Hoogenband. Four years later in Athens, Thorpe took revenge in the "Race of the century" that was the first to prominently feature the young Michael Phelps:

While pictoresque settings fot outdoor events - beach volleyball at Bondi Beach, triathlon at the Opera House, and sailing in front of Harbour Bridge - gained acclaim all over the world, Greco-Roman Wrestling saw the biggest upset for decades. Russian super heavyweight Alexander Kareline had not lost a single match in three consecutive victorious Olympics. American Rulon Gardner made "King Kong" loose his grip for one single moment - and Karelines streak was over.

Besides great sports and only few controversies,  Sydney organizers were the first at least trying to stage "Green Games". Not every ecological promise was kept, but a standard for future hosts was set. No wonder the closing ceremony was a big rocking party. Australia had delivered.

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