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20 years after the 'best Olympics'

As a university student in Sydney in the lead up to the Sydney 2000 Olympics I convinced myself I couldn’t afford tickets to any Olympic events. I think I was also partly rebelling against being told it was going to be the best thing that had happened to Sydney.

Yet, I quickly found myself caught up in the fun and atmosphere created by the Games. I have fond memories of watching events on a big screen in the Domain, yelling at the TV with flatmates, laughing with Roy and HG and marvelling at the endless enthusiasm of brightly-dressed volunteers.

Sydney shines

From the Opening Ceremony on 15 September 2000, with its epic celebration of Australian culture, to the Closing Ceremony’s massive party on 1 October 2000, the Sydney Olympics captivated the nation. At official events and in parks, backyards and lounge rooms across Sydney, the host city pulsed with energy.

Venues for the 300 Olympic events were packed and a team of 46,967 volunteers ensured everything ran smoothly. Australian athletes performed brilliantly before the home crowd. They won 58 medals — 16 gold, 25 silver and 17 bronze — and Australia finished 4th overall. These included Cathy Freeman’s iconic win in the 400 metres and Ian Thorpe’s three gold and one silver in the pool.

An audience of 3.7 billion people in 220 countries tuned into the broadcast. Sydney and Australia shone brightly on the world stage.

A female curator is looking lovingly at an exhibition display featuring objects from the Sydney Olympics.
Curator Laina Hall with part of the Sydney Olympics display

Melbourne Olympics

In researching Sydney 2000 I also wanted to bring people’s attention to Melbourne being the first city outside Europe or the United States to host the Olympic Games.

In the lead up to the 1956 Games, many wondered if Australia could deliver as disputes over funding, international political upheaval and a series of boycotts overshadowed the greatest show on Earth. But on 22 November 1956, more than 100,000 people packed the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the Opening Ceremony.

Thousands watched the live television broadcasts. The performances of Australian sporting heroes including Dawn Fraser, Murray Rose and Betty Cuthbert were cause for national celebration. Television had only very recently been introduced in Australia and one of the objects in our collection is an ABC outside broadcast van that was in Melbourne and helped capture much of the sporting action.

Reflecting on the Sydney Games

In a year when many of us looked forward to cheering our athletes on in Tokyo and 20 years on from the Sydney Games, the display in our Gandel Atrium provides an opportunity to reflect on the way sporting events are used to project national identity and how sport can inspire and connect people in Australia and across the world.

Reminiscing about and researching the Games also made me wish, again, that I had actually saved or borrowed some money to get a ticket to something, anything really, just to be able to say ‘I was there’.

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