SYDNEY-The Olympics Millennium Games opened with a splashy tribute to Australia's long history and diverse culture Friday night in Sydney's Olympic Stadium.
The dazzling, sometimes emotional show ended years of anticipation by the Australian people as the Olympic Games returned to the Southern Hemisphere for the first time since they were staged in Melbourne in 1956. The Opening Ceremonies kicked off a 17-day celebration of world sport and signaled the start of a massive party down under as Australians promised to show Olympic visitors a good time.
In the United States the sports and celebrations will be broadcast by NBC on a tape delay because of the huge time difference. Sydney is 15 hours ahead of the U.S. east coast and 18 hours ahead of the west coast. That meant the opening ceremonies were scheduled to end around 7 a.m. Friday, Augusta time. **(Please insert your own city and change the time if you are in the west.)** The TV broadcast of the event will be Friday night.
Because of the time difference this story was based on the script for the show and on two dress rehearsals. For updates check Augustachronicle.com on Friday. **(Again, please insert your website here.)**
The show was put together by veteran Olympic director Ric Burch, who also directed Opening Ceremonies in Los Angeles in 1984 and Barcelona in 1992. More than 18,000 cast and crew members were needed for the show.
The performers included young children singing and dancing, a 2,000-member marching band and a duet by Olivia Newton-John and John Farnham honoring the 11,000 athletes. More athletes keep showing up, in part because the organizers promised to pay the transportation for all the athletes. The show included segments on the Aboriginal people who were the first to occupy the land and on nature, as organizers stressed their commitment to an environmentally-friendly "green games."
The show had a strong Australian flavor, and the chrome pickup trucks used in Atlanta were nowhere in sight. It used dance, music and special effects to tell the story of the world's oldest continent. Aboriginal people had a strong presence in the production, which also paid tribute to the many cultures represented by people from all over the world who have moved here in the last 30 years.
More than 100,000 people packed the stadium, the largest ever built for an Olympics. The show capped a three-day Olympic frenzy in Sydney that began when the Olympic torch relay entered the city on the last leg of its 100-day journey through Australia. Hundreds of thousands of people jammed the streets to watch the torch run. Several celebrities participated in the last legs, including Miss Newton-John, tennis star Pat Rafter, former Olympian Dawn Fraser, and Prince Albert of Monaco. Golfer Greg Norman carried the torch across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The celebrities in the stands for the ceremonies included President Bill Clinton's daughter Chelsea and royalty of several nations.
In the city's central business district near the harbor 54 lasers mounted on 17 high-rise buildings were lit with colored beams into the night sky and onto city buildings. The massive Olympic rings on the Harbour Bridge were lit Thursday night as the torch passed the Opera House.
Concerts are scheduled every night through Oct. 1 at special venues set up throughout the city to make sure the party continues through the run of the Olympic Games.
Breaking years of tradition, U.S. athletes and team officials walked together when the team marched into the stadium. The U.S. Olympic Committee is doing away with the line of officials that usually comes between the American flag and the athletes in the Opening Ceremonies march. The change was requested by athlete representatives on the USOC's Executive Committee.
Anticipating temperatures dipping to near 50, many Olympic teams issued their athletes heavy uniforms to keep them warm. It was the first time U.S. athletes had received parkas and heavy jackets for the summer Olympics. In Australia it is the beginning of spring, with warms days and cool nights.
Although the name of the person who lit the Olympic cauldron was kept a closely guarded secret until show time, the U.S. flag bearer was revealed Thursday. Sprint kayaker Cliff Meidl won the honor 14 years after an accident nearly cost him his life and severely damaged his legs and toes.
"This is an incredible honor," Meidl said. "Not only is going to the Olympics a dream for me, but to be elected flag bearer by my peers is the ultimate. I am so proud and honored to be able to represent the USA and to lead the entire delegation into the stadium."
While working his way through college in 1986 Meidl was using a jackhammer and cut through three unmarked high voltage cables, sending 30,000 volts of electricity through his body. The blast blew off several toes, damaged his knees, caused damage to his skull and burned a portion of his back where the current exited. He had to be revived twice.
Doctors were able to save his legs, but they didn't think he would ever walk again.
Inspired by watching kayaker Greg Barton, who was born with club feet, take two gold medals in the 1988 Seoul Olympics
Meidl decided to use the kayak to help his rehabilitation. He chose the sport because it relies so much on upper body strength.
"I still can't run or ski, but I can walk and I can paddle," Cliff said. "I don't take things for granted anymore and I definitely believe in nine lives."
Athletes are nominated by their team captain and then all captains vote.
Track and Field athlete Lance Deal (hammer throw) is the alternate flag bearer. Among the nominees were Brandi Chastain, women's soccer; Teresa Edwards, woman's basketball; Dara Torres, women's swimming,
and Mike Wherley, men's rowing. Cyclist Lance Armstrong was nominated but his name was removed because he will not be in the country for Opening Ceremonies.
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