Olympic Live! sites draw U.S. spectators seeking the spirit of Sydney

Posted: Thursday, September 21, 2000

SYDNEY - American visitors wandering the downtown streets have felt the energy of the Olympic games, even though they're miles from the stadiums where the drama is played out. Parks outfitted with giant television screens have put the games in the laps of locals and tourists alike, making the spirit of the games inescapable.

Patricia Hubbert, who lives near Decatur, Ga., said she routinely visits Olympic Live! sites scattered around town to feel a part of the Olympic frenzy.

"It's electric down here," said Hubbert, who'd stopped to watch a few minutes of the women's water volleyball match. "I like this a lot more than Atlanta's area in Centennial Park." Centennial Park was the only public park offering televised Olympic coverage in 1996.

Many of those visiting Sydney's sites said the parks made the perfect place to rest up, meet a new friend and watch the competitors fight for gold. People of all nationalities gather at the six sites to watch just about any sport that's being shown and no one's bashful about cheering for their favorite teams.

Enormous televisions and speakers can be found near every key tourist spot in town, including trendy Martin Place, known for its fashionable stores and bistros. Bands and performers keep crowds entertained when Olympic coverage breaks for a commercial.

"There just seems to be everything you could want down here," Hubbert said. The park she stopped at sits just a few short blocks away from the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

As she talked, a group of fans screamed as images of the Australian women's water volleyball team battling in the pool appeared on the television screen. Fans drape themselves in national flags and chants breakout for various national teams. Even the vendors selling Coca-Colas stop counting change to take a glimpse of the massive screens.

"You get a crowd cheering, and you just really get into the excitement of it," said Alice Rutherford, who traveled from Mobile, Ala. Her daughters performed at several Olympic sites as entertainment for fans heading to events. "Sydney has done a great job making you feel a part of the games," she said, as her husband peered over her to watch highlights from the day's swimming events.

The food alone is reason to visit the parks, said several American tourists. Within a three-block span of any of the six parks showing Olympic coverage, fans can choose from meat pies, sushi, sandwiches, fresh fruit and gourmet salads, to name just a few. Bartenders stand ready to pass a beer or glass of wine. The smorgasbord puts any American hot dog or dish of nachos to shame.

"We've stopped by here while we are shopping just to grab a snack and see what event is going on," said Jo Dean, of Mobile, Ala. "The attitude of the people is amazing. This is a wonderful atmosphere." While American's are far outnumbered at the parks, predominately used by locals looking to watch the games in between errands or short breaks from work, many said they come back to the parks to catch the Olympic spirit.

"We've gone to one event so far, and we've got some more to go to later in the week, but I think we got more into the games coming here," said Jo Ellen Biadasz,{cq} from Wisconsin.

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