By Betty Moore
As my thoughts go back to the highlights of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, I was reminded that it all really began in earnest when we started practising to be officials at the World Junior Championships. When I look back on that event, I realise just how much we have moved forward from what we thought at the time was the absolute pinnacle of athletics meetings. How things have changed!
But we did begin to learn our trade in 1996 and my particular area of expertise was the call room. Little did I know then, as I trudged back and forth taking athletes out onto our brand new Sydney Olympic Park athletics track, that four years later, I would be privileged to be given one of the best jobs at the Olympics (from my point of view anyway).
My job in the call room was to call athletes from the warm-up area underneath the grandstand at the main track and send them to the officials who would take them out onto the track to compete in their event.
What a grandstand seat from which to watch the very, very different ways in which these elite athletes prepared to do battle on the biggest arena of their lives. Most of my conversations with them (after I had made my announcements in English and French) were to help them find their way to the toilet.
How fascinating to watch the different nationalities as they made their way into the call room. You could tell the USA team were on their way by the noise level which preceded them; the Germans were tight-lipped and very stern; the Brits were also quite noisy but in a much more contained way although they did rival the Americans in the weight of gold chains around their necks. The Spanish were brash, rude, and very unwilling to obey any request they were given, mainly they claimed, because they did not understand, despite the many languages in which we tried to talk to them. The Russians were focussed and unsmiling; many of the athletes were completely overawed; but the pick of the bunch were the African athletes, who were quiet, unassuming, very self-contained and greeted everyone with a shy smile.
Amazingly, people behaved in different ways according to the event for which they were warming up. The sprinters were very edgy, coiled springs just waiting to explode; the distance folk much calmer, reserving their energies for performing for a longer time; the jumpers all seemed to be leaping about, while the high hurdlers kept crashing into hurdles with a great deal of noise and a nonchalance which said ``I’ve hit those things a few times before, so no big deal.’’ The throwers were just so big.
Marion Jones and Michael Johnson came with their gold shoes in their hands (no big deal there either I guess, as they were not paying for them.) Cathy Freeman arrived, carrying just her shoes and the weight of Australia on her small shoulders. Total concentration. Maurice Green and Ato Bolden, unlike the other black sprinters, were quiet, concentrating and withdrawn. Green came towards me as he was finishing his warm-up and I assumed ``Oh, here’s another person who needs to know where the toilet is.’ I looked at him expectantly, and then realised he was walking straight past me into a quiet corner where he knelt down to pray. Bolden followed suit and then they straightened up, squared their shoulders and went out to do battle with the fastest men on earth.
A few hours before Cathy Freeman was to run her 400m final, several officials were drawn aside and told that, if Cathy won, she would, of course, run a lap of honour. Because she was an Australian athlete, the press entourage would be trailing around behind her to take photos etc. OK, so?
At the same time, the men’s long jump would be entering its final rounds on the far side of the field and as the press moved around with Cathy they would be crowding into the area where the jumpers were competing. So the officials were to wait until we were sure Cathy had won and then quietly make our way out onto the field of play to form a barrier so the press and Cathy would not interfere with the jumping. I still have goosebumps as I recall standing in the tunnel until those final few metres as Cathy drew away from the rest of the field to claim her gold medal and feeling the noise of the exultant Aussie crowd going wild, as she sat slumped on the ground. As we moved out onto the arena, we could see the joy and triumph seeping into Cathy’s consciousness and watch her get to her feet to enjoy that amazing moment. I could not believe I was right there, standing beside her and watching the spectacle of one of the most momentous moments in Australian sporting drama. What a privilege!
However, I must add that we did not see Jai Taurima’s silver medal performance, because we were busy fending off large cameras and lots of people, who were there to do their job, just as we were there to do ours.
An overall impression of being a technical official at the Sydney 2000 Olympics? Moments of triumph, moments of despair and lack of sleep. We often began our day by leaving the university at 4am for the road events, finished at noon, then had to be back to start the evening session (in a different set of gear) by 4pm. We’d finish at 11pm in time to catch the last bus back to the university. By the end of the Games we didn’t bother returning to our rooms after the morning session and you could often find people on the floor of the officials’ room at the stadium catching up on some much needed sleep.
What did overseas officials think of our Olympics? Let me share one snippet. I won’t explain how, but we managed to sneak into the swimming on one of the days we were not too busy. We began chatting to the people behind us who were American officials from the gymnastics arena. The swimming began and the crowd became very noisy and very involved with the competition which was taking place in the pool. One of the American folk leaned over to me and said ``I cannot believe how supportive the Aussie crowd is. They are cheering for everybody in the race. In the USA the crowd only has eyes for the American competitors, so if they don’t win, the crowd doesn’t bother to cheer for anyone else.’’ What a nice complement for us Aussies.
At the forefront were the 200 technical officials, appointed by Athletics Australia. This included 40 from NSW, including Betty Moore. They wore the bottle green blazers during the evening sessions. On September 15 at the Pirtek Athletics Allstars Meet, they will be presented to the crowd and honoured for their contribution to the Sydney Olympics.
Pirtek All Star Athletic Meet (presented by Competitive Edge)
Wednesday 15th September 2010
Athletics NSW are selling general admission grandstand tickets on behalf of the promoter. These cost $70 each. Click here to purchase tickets
Ticketek are selling general admission tickets for the hill areas, at $30 for adults and $15 for children. Click here to be taken to the ticketek website.