It sprawls across a butte 10 miles west of Sydney, a $433
million hosanna to the Summer Games of 2000. Its arches rise 190
feet from the floor of Sydney Olympic Park, a cluster of 14
sports venues connected by pristine brick walkways. Here will be
the soul of the Games. Hills have been built and made grassy,
endangered frogs have been saved. The stadium's official name is
Stadium Australia, but everyone calls it the Olympic Stadium.
On Jan. 26 construction workers who had been on the site for
more than two years were invited to bring their families into
the stadium for an open house to celebrate its pending
completion. They were given time to admire the 110,000
shimmering blue seats, which make this the largest Olympic
stadium in history. They saw two huge television screens, one at
each end, and a state-of-the-art running track surrounding a
lush grass infield. It was a day of immense pride for anyone
associated with Sydney's Olympic preparation.
There was another reason to celebrate. Just two days earlier,
10,300 miles away at an International Olympic Committee meeting
in Lausanne, Switzerland, an apparent crisis had been averted.
In the wake of an admission by Australian Olympic Committee
(AOC) president John Coates that he had pledged a total of
$70,000 in sports aid to IOC members from Kenya and Uganda on
the eve of the September 1993 balloting that--by two
votes--awarded the Games to Sydney, Kevan Gosper, the only
Aussie on the IOC executive board, spent all night lobbying for
what he felt was the Sydney Games' survival. First he secured
assurances from Coates and New South Wales Minister for the
Olympics Michael Knight that the money hadn't been simply a
bribe for votes but, they said, had been placed in existing
funds for youth sports in Kenya and Uganda. Then Gosper went to
IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch and pleaded Sydney's case.
"I believed I had to act quickly to restore confidence in the
bid," says Gosper. "Samaranch wasn't happy. In a climate as
uncertain as this, after Salt Lake City, I believed we could
have lost the Games."
On Jan. 24 Samaranch declared that the 2000 Olympics wouldn't be
moved, either because Gosper's explanation had been persuasive
or because transplanting an entire Games almost 20 months before
the torch-lighting would be logistical madness. In the days that
followed, many Australians lustily dismissed the notion that the
Olympics might have been taken away--or still might be, if more
improprieties were to come to light. It was as if, by force of
its collective stubbornness, the nation could laugh away the
threat. "There was never any panic here," said Frank Sartor, the
lord mayor of Sydney, as he stood last week on the steps of the
city's Opera House, a landmark that will be burned into the
world's retinas in 2000. "Sydneysiders are a pretty robust
people, and it takes a lot to worry us.... In this case, there
was corruption by IOC members, and no doubt by other bidding
cities. Sydney's bid was one of the cleanest. We have no
problem. The IOC has a problem."
Those sentiments were echoed by 1960 Olympic 1,500-meter
champion Herb Elliott, an AOC director. "John Coates would have
been stupid not to put $70,000 more in two existing funds if it
made the difference in getting the Games," said Elliott. "Our
Games are like a duck in the water: The feathers get a little
ruffled, but underneath, the feet are paddling along. Gosper is
the one who got himself in a panic."
Gosper disputed that. "It's easy for people in their armchairs
and offices back in Australia to say that the Games were never
in danger," he said. "It was a much more realistic threat from
where I was."
In fact, for many Australians involved with the Games the
scandal and its possible consequences helped underscore how much
they had already invested in the Olympics. As the CEO of the
consortium that built Stadium Australia, Alan Patching had spent
hundreds of days at the site. "You get frustrations on a big job
like this," said Patching last week as he walked along the
running track. "Whenever I got frustrated, I would go up into
the seating area and think about some athlete who's trained his
whole life to run down the bloody track for 10 seconds. I tell
you, it was magical just to imagine it, and I've never had
another project that made me feel that way."
A native of tiny Thursday Island ("Four people and a dog," he
said), Patching, 49, lived in Canberra for 35 years before
moving to Sydney in 1996 to handle the stadium project. He
didn't think the IOC scandal would affect him, but here on the
track, under a summer sun, the prospect of having built just
another pitch for Aussie Rules football hit a nerve. "You put in
all this effort for something, sure it would be disappointing if
they moved the Games," he said.
At least he would have a stadium to show for his work. Without
the Olympics, David Hansen would have nothing. Hansen, 39, is
competition manager for the triathlon, which in the 2000 Games
will be an event for the first time. In Hansen's office is a
picture of the start of a 1998 World Cup triathlon showing
dozens of swimmers diving into Sydney Harbor, with the Opera
House as a backdrop. "Most spectacular venue at the Games," he
Hansen, a longtime triathlon organizer from Melbourne, is one of
more than 750 workers--the number will grow to some 2,000 next
year--employed by the Sydney organizing committee. "It would
have been absolutely devastating to so many people if they had
moved the Games," Hansen says. Now he can continue planning the
birth of an Olympic sport.
Kieren Perkins can continue competing as another sport's
Australian icon. The 25-year-old fueled the Aussie passion for
swimming by winning gold medals in the 1,500-meter freestyle at
both the Barcelona and Atlanta Games. He had planned to retire
after 1996, but Atlanta changed him. "I saw the stands at the
pool full of spectators even for the morning heats," he says.
"When there was an American racing, they went crazy for him. It
was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen. It would be even
madder in Sydney, because Australians love swimming. I wanted to
An old man in swimmer's years, Perkins probably would not have
even attended the Games if they had been snatched from Sydney.
"Australia stretched the rules," Perkins says. "Everybody
stretched the rules. But 20 months out, it's so close...."
By late last week, news of IOC doings had moved off the front
pages and back inside the Australian daily papers. Organizing
committee head Sandy Hollway promised his staffers that they
would have jobs through 2000. Sponsors were given assurances
that the bid scandal would die. Yet Hollway, 50, a former
Australian secretary of employment, education and youth affairs,
understood that, almost overnight, the Olympic bar had been
raised dramatically for his city. "Ours will be the first Games
since the IOC scandal, and that means that Sydney takes on
almost a quasimoral quality," Hollway said. "People always want
their Games to be successful. We need ours to be successful."