SYDNEY-Australia swept the gold medals in opening ceremonies with a spectacular show that mixed artistry, engineering, stirring music, emotion and humor.
The 110,000 people in Olympic Stadium roared their approval throughout the four-hour show that opened the Sydney Olympic Games Friday night.
When it was over many people did not want to leave, as they stared at the dazzling cauldron high atop one end of the stadium, while a waterfall cascades down the upper deck into a pool below. The closely guarded secret of who would light the cauldron and how left the Aussies gasping in amazement and appreciation.
The Olympic torch was carried through the final stages of the 100-day relay through Australia by six former Australian Olympians, in honor of the 100th anniversary of women competing in the Olympics. Then the torch was handed to current Olympian Cathy Freeman, who hopes to win the 400-meter and 200-meter runs.
Flower during the dream sequence.
Photo by Dennis Sodomka
She walked into a pool of water and lit the cauldron as it rose around her. Then a mechanism carried it to the upper deck of the stadium and pulled it above the cascading water to the top of the stadium. A mechanical glitch stalled the cauldron for several minutes while Ms. Freeman stood there.
Ms. Freeman is from an Aboriginal family. Her choice to light the cauldron was particularly poignant because relations between Aboriginal people and European settlers have often been tense.
The Sydney Olympic Games seem to have brought a measure of harmony to many groups in Australia.
Dawn Gavin came from Melbourne to volunteer for the Games even though she says there has long been a rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, which hosted the Olympics in 1956.
"We feud all the time about which city is better, but we've put it all aside for three weeks," said Mrs. Gavin.
She hadn't planned on seeing any of the competition or the Opening Ceremonies, but a piece of extraordinary luck changed all that.
"I was walking down to the big screen to watch the ceremonies with the other volunteers, and I guess these three chaps with the Canadian press heard me talking about the Games," said Mrs. Gavin. "They said 'would you like a ticket?' and I about fell over.
"They had an extra ticket and decided to give it to me. What a thrill! I broke down and cried right there. I'll probably cry for a week."
Kathy Freeman walked into a pool of water and lit the cauldron as it rose around her.
Photo by Dennis Sodomka
Opening ceremonies tickets have been selling for as much as $1,500 on the street.
Mrs. Gavin said she knew getting the ticket was a bolt out of the blue. She hadn't even tried to find one because she knew how expensive they were.
"I'm keeping a diary of my experiences here, and this will definitely be the highlight," said Mrs. Gavin, who could barely sit in her seat during the show. She jumped and yelled and laughed throughout the event.
The stadium was filled with people like Mrs. Gavin who felt pride for their country, but also appreciated the achievements of athletes from other countries. One of the loudest cheers of the night was during the parade of nations when North and South Korean teams marched under a unified flag, temporarily putting aside differences that have divided their nation for half a century. They will compete as separate nations.
The evening was filled with superlatives. Consider some of the numbers:
110,000 attendance, the largest ever for an Olympic event.
13,000 performers, 6,000 backstage people.
12,000 athletes and officials.
the largest aerial performance ever staged.
2,000-member marching band.
The show started with 120 stockmen (cowboys) riding through the stadium, and forming the Olympic rings. That was followed by a dream sequence in which a young girl, played by 13-year-old Nikki Webster, falls asleep at the beach and sees all kinds of sea creatures swimming around her.
The show then took the crowd through a history of Australia, from the Aboriginal people through the colonial period and into the boom time of the last 25 years. It even included a hilarious lawnmower ballet sequence with a brigade of men dressed in outlandish shorts and Hawaiian shirts.
With the Games off to a spectacular start, all that's left is to watch the next 16 days of the finest athletic competition in the world.
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