I'm ready. The Sydney Olympics begin Friday with what surely will be another spectacular opening ceremony. Aren't they all spectacular?
With any luck I'll be sitting in Olympic stadium Friday night, the fourth time I'll see the opening ceremonies in person. In Lillehammer, Norway, I trudged through chest-deep snow, after having my new boots stolen, to see the Olympic flame come in via ski jumper. I endured steamy heat and crushing crowds in Atlanta to see the great Muhammad Ali light the Olympic cauldron. In Nagano I shivered through bitter cold and joined a group of Australians who commandeered a bus after no one could figure out how to get back to the press center. What adventure awaits in Sydney?
These are personal memories, but I share with most Americans the memories of Olympic drama preserved on television and film, the thrilling victories, the agonizing defeats, the noble but hopeless efforts. Who can forget the Jamaican bobsled team? Or Eddie the Eagle? What about Mark Spitz, Carl Lewis or Flo Jo?
More people follow the Olympics than any other sport. The Olympic Games transcend sport and allow us to dream of things that might be. Sometimes the athletes who don't win medals have gained the most. Sometimes we reach for things that are not meant to be. But we can all dream, can't we?
The Olympics excite the imagination. Who doesn't want to score the winning basket or make the longest jump on the last attempt? But if we don't get to the Olympic battlefield, each of us exemplifies the Olympic ideal in our own way.
Whether it's the overburdened mother trying to balance the unrelenting demands of work and family or the worker trying to be the best he can be without compromising his principles, we're all chasing Olympic dreams. We want to show our children what it means to do your best, even in the smallest of things.
I've had dozens of friends offer to carry my bags, fix my computer or fetch my beer in Sydney, and I wish they could all go with me. I know how extraordinarily fortunate I have been to see these great athletes and to meet so many interesting people around the world. I wish everyone could have that experience.
That's why when I go to the Olympics or Pan American Games I try to paint a picture of what it is like to be there. I try to put the readers in my shoes or in the athlete's shoes. You can get results from many different places, but I think most people want to know what makes these Olympians tick, what's going on here?
This year I've studied everything I can about Australia. I've seen the movies "On the Beach," "Mad Max," "Crocodile Dundee" and all their sequels. I've listened to "Waltzing Matilda" and Olivia Newton-John too many times.
I've even watched that goofy crocodile hunter on cable. "Wow! Take a look at that beauty," he shouts as he grabs another deadly snake by the tail. (Oh, and by the way, it was not comforting to find out that Australia has more deadly snakes and spiders than any other place on earth.)
So I think I'm ready to bring the Games home to you. I'll try to do it without falling back on too many cliches like kangaroos, koalas and shrimp on the barbie. The Olympic Games definitely falls outside the scope of our normal lives, and Australia will be a very foreign experience, even if they do speak a sort of English.
Historian Geoffrey Blainey said early settlers often were overwhelmed by the "tyranny of distance" because Australia is so far from every other place on earth. Modern travel has shrunk the world somewhat, but flying from Augusta to Sydney is still a 24-hour trip. And because Sydney is 15 hours ahead of us, trying to figure out what's going on when is very confusing.
So sit back, strap yourself into the lounge chair for some marathon Olympic watching (or reading).
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