During the Olympic bribery scandal last winter, the International Olympic Committee endured the worst crisis in its century-long history and the public gasped at the excesses surrounding the Olympic movement.
Organizers for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney couldn't believe this unprecedented crisis -- in which Australians played a small but nonetheless embarrassing part -- was happening just over a year before their Games. With millions in sponsorship revenue still needed and not a single ticket yet sold, organizers feared they would have difficulty meeting financial goals.
As the scandal simmered, New South Wales state Olympics Minister Michael Knight slashed about $32.5 million in "luxuries" from the $1.6 billion Games budget. He increased the organization's emergency contingency fund by about $16 million. And he and the organizing committee members crossed their fingers.
But now, one year from the start of the 2000 Games and about seven months removed from the winter's scandal over the Olympic site selection process, optimism has returned. The crisis has faded from the public consciousness, and organizers have been buoyed by the public's response to the opening-round of ticket sales.
Australians ordered a record $223 million worth of tickets during this summer's sales, compared to the previous high of $203 million ordered over the same period for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Putting that number into context is this fact: Australia's market size is only 5 percent of that of the United States.
"In many ways, the ticket sales represent a bit of a turning point for us in the public's attitude about the Games," said Milton Cockburn, a general manager for the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG). "The public's energy for the Games always remained very high, but there were ramifications of the IOC scandal here. The fact that the first-round of the ticket sales went so very well shows that people realize the Games themselves are not besmirched."
The IOC offered evidence along those lines through a survey it took in March. In the survey, 8,200 people in nine countries were polled and 76 percent said they still had a positive attitude about the Olympic Games. Eighty-five percent said they had a positive attitude about Olympic athletes.
Not every hurdle has been crossed, however. Sydney still must raise $91 million of the budgeted $550 million in sponsorship revenue. And Knight has refused to back off of the pledge that the Games will generate a $19.5 million surplus.
Since March, Mizuno and three Australian companies have signed corporate sponsorships with SOCOG. The budget cuts have come in areas designed not to impact athletes or spectators. About $20 million, for example, came through a freeze on hiring and staff salaries. Other cuts came from amenities designed to improve or decorate Olympic venues.
With the scandal's impact fading, Games organizers have been eager to turn attention to their city's beauty and its readiness for the first Games of the new millennium.
"All the buildings seem to be on schedule, except the tennis venue," American IOC member Anita DeFrantz said. "Olympic Stadium is beautiful and working."
Indeed, the centerpiece of the Olympic Games, Olympic Stadium at Homebush Bay, opened with great fanfare and success in March. The first event held there, a rugby league match, attracted 104,583 fans (the stadium's capacity is 110,000). And, Cockburn boasted, the parking lots emptied within 90 minutes of the match's conclusion. The partial roof, which resembles the petals of a flower, was specially constructed to shade nearly all of the spectators without being a fully enclosed dome.
Another eye-catching new venue will be the Sydney SuperDome at Homebush Bay. It's not only the first domed sports facility in the nation, it is perhaps the first in the world that is 100 percent solar powered. The SuperDome is scheduled to open this fall, and will play host to Olympic basketball, artistic gymnastics and trampoline, which makes its debut in the Games.
Given the transportation difficulties encountered in Atlanta, which was plagued by traffic jams and overwhelmed bus drivers, Sydney organizers decided to ban on-site parking at all of the venues. Patrons will be encouraged to park at designated lots and ride shuttles. Another option will be riding the newly constructed rail loop that links Olympic Stadium to the main rail line in Sydney.
"Anyone would concede that the biggest lesson we learned out of Atlanta was the need to coordinate transportation arrangements," Cockburn said.
Sydney, a city of about 3.8 million, includes the aptly named Darling Harbor and routinely wins acclaim as a top destination in travel magazine polls. It's known for award-winning restaurants, sophisticated culture, lively nightlife and, of course, beautiful beaches and waterways -- Sydney Harbor itself contains 145 miles of shoreline. That's quite a resume for a city that originated as a penal colony for British convicts in the late 1700s. The first fleet of 11 ships from England brought about 700 male and female convicts and several hundred marines and their families.
To ensure a festival atmosphere throughout the Games, the New South Wales government has urged businesses to send their employees on early winter vacations -- which usually occur in late December and early January -- during the Olympics. Giant video screens will be strategically placed throughout the city, to encourage those even without tickets to enjoy the Olympic action. Schools will be closed, which will allow children to attend events. More than 1 million tickets will be reserved for schoolchildren and community groups at major discounts.
"Until the first athlete begins competition, the focus will be on the IOC," DeFrantz said. "As soon as competition begins, the focus will be on the athlete. That's what the Games are all about."
A Trio of New Olympic Sports to Debut
The Sydney Games will include three new Olympic sports: taekwondo, trampoline and triathlon. Also new for 2000 is competition in women's weightlifting.
The word for this 2000-year-old sport originating in Korea means "the way of hands and feet." It was a demonstration sport at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and the 1992 Games in Barcelona. The competition format includes four weight classes each for men and women in a single-elimination tournament to decide gold and silver medals. A second bracket will be used to decide bronze medals. Matches are scored by awarding a point for each legitimate blow and deducting a point for each penalty.
The trampolines used in international competition bear little resemblance to the backyard models. These larger and more powerful tramps can propel jumpers as high as 30 feet in the air. Competitors, both men and women, perform two routines consisting of 10 moves each. Such moves include triple and twisting somersaults, performed both forward and backward.
Considered the ultimate endurance test, the sport got its start at the 1978 Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. The Olympic triathlon will consist of a 1.5K (.93-mile) swim around Farm Cove in Sydney Harbour, a 40K (25-mile) bike ride and 10K (6.2-mile) run around the Sydney Opera House and Royal Botanic Gardens. The race is continuous, with no stop between the legs. The men's and women's race each will feature 50 competitors.