TOKYO - The Brisbane Games guarantee one thing: if 2032 does not surprise the world with a new pandemic or similar catastrophe, the stands will be packed with people who understand and love sport. Few countries are as sporty and as athletic as Australia, that huge island that will host the Olympic Games for the third time in history.
Besides Melbourne 56, the memory of Sydney 2000 is the great parameter. Those days between September 15 and October 1 -the end of winter and the beginning of spring in the southern hemisphere- bring back the memory of Australian pop-rock delightfully bursting from the speakers in the huge, sunny, windy and often cool Olympic Park.
A Games that opened in a stadium with a capacity of 110,000 people, something never seen before in Olympic history. The Games were the last of a certain era of innocence, despite the fact that four years earlier Atlanta had been shaken by a bomb: less than a year after Sydney 2000, the attacks of September 11, 2001 would come and the world would change. As it would be changed again by a pandemic two decades later. So did the Olympic Games.
September 11 and Brisbane, in fact, came very close to crossing paths. Brisbane and the Gold Coast hosted the 2001 Goodwill Games. It was the last edition of the Games created and organized by Ted Turner.
Those Games closed two days before planes crashed into the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC. Quite a few athletes were stranded in Australia. Bill Clinton, who until earlier that year was President of the United States, was on the Gold Coast in those days.
Brisbane also hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1982, another milestone in a city that breathes sport in a country that lives sport with discipline and passion. An example? Those who want to emigrate to Australia will find in the “Australian Immigration Book” a resounding statement: “Australians play sports, watch sports, bet on sports and talk about sports more than anything else”.
Tennis, which has produced great champions and allows Australia to host one of the four most important tournaments in the world, is another example of how “Aussies” live sport. Every January, during the Australian Open, Tennis Australia (TA) gathers its champions and organizes a tribute dinner for them. The videos are a source of humour, the old champions make heartfelt confessions to each other and everything ends in a great fraternization that unites generations and motivates the youngest, the future champions.
A country surrounded by water and with its main cities near the ocean, it is not surprising that the most popular sport among Australians is swimming. Cycling, soccer, basketball, tennis, aussie rules and cricket also arouse passions.
If you think back to the Sydney 2000 Games, the image of Cathy Freeman in her green Australian suit to win the 400 meters is one of the most powerful memories. Her celebration waving the Australian and Aboriginal flags marked a moment of reconciliation for the country, a path that would lead in February 2008 to the historic apology of the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, to the Aborigines and the so-called “stolen generation”.
The Sydney Games were to be Juan Antonio Samaranch’s last as head of the IOC. The Spaniard suffered a personal tragedy during those Games with the death of his wife in Barcelona. The Games opened on Friday, October 15, and Maria Teresa Salisachs died the following day. Samaranch, who was flying to Spain from Australia in Mario Vázquez Raña’s private plane, did not arrive in time. At the closing ceremony he sent a kiss to heaven.