Australia Olympic Sydney 2000 Freeman ReminiscesA video screen shows Cathy Freeman lighting the Olympic Cauldron as part of the 20th anniversary celebrations of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Freeman, who lit the cauldron at the original opening ceremony and won the 400-meter race at the track in one of the country's all-time great sporting moments, said it was a wonderful gesture to have "two future stars" recognized on such a major stage ahead of the rescheduled 2020 Games in Tokyo next year. (Dean Lewins/AAP Image via AP)
Australians have such fond memories of the Sydney Olympics that officials brought back star athletes such as Cathy Freeman and Ian Thorpe to help celebrate the 20th anniversary.
For good measure, they even re-lit the cauldron at Sydney Olympic Park.
Freeman — by video link in Victoria state — and Thorpe, in person, both recalled what then IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch described during the closing ceremony on Oct. 1, 2000 as the “greatest games ever.”
On Tuesday, teenage basketball player Tenayah Logan and Paralympic track athlete Tamsin Colley were chosen to re-light the flame.
Freeman, who lit the cauldron at the opening ceremony in 2000 and 11 nights later won gold in the 400 meters in one of the country’s all-time great sporting moments, said it was a wonderful gesture to have “two future stars” recognized on such a major stage ahead of the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics next year.
With three swimming gold medals and two silver, several in world-record time, Thorpe, then only 17, was the most successful Australian performer in Sydney. He said it was the most memorable experience of his life.
“It sure was,” Thorpe told Australian Associated Press. “For me, I remember watching on TV at the start of the opening ceremony and it’s amazing that 20 years have passed."
He said the anniversary celebration was a chance for people to “reminisce about a time that was a great time for Sydney and the country, where everyone was kind of celebrated.”
Thorpe said he recalled hearing from people who had won tickets in a ballot to go to the swimming program’s opening night.
“And they’d add something that kind of freaked me out: ‘I can’t wait to see you win your first Olympic gold medal,’ which is a lot of pressure and I went in and we hadn’t won an Olympic gold medal at that stage.”
Thorpe didn’t disappoint anyone in the crowd of 17,500 at the Sydney Olympic Aquatic Centre that night — Sept. 16, 2000 — winning gold in the 400-meter freestyle and breaking his own world record in a time of 3 minutes, 40.59 seconds.
“I just felt this surge or sheer energy inside of me when I touched the wall and realized I had the world record,” Thorpe said.
He would re-set the 400 mark two more times over the next several years and held the world record until 2009 when Germany’s Paul Biedermann lowered the mark to 3:40.07 at the world championships in Rome in 2009, a record that still stands.
Something else that has aged well is Australia’s reputation for holding big sporting events.
After the plaudits were in for Sydney 2000, Australia picked up major events such as the 2003 Rugby World Cup, the 2006 and 2018 Commonwealth Games, the 2015 Cricket World Cup and in 2023 will co-host with New Zealand soccer’s Women’s World Cup.
Dennis Passa covered the Sydney 2000 Games for The Associated Press among his seven Olympic assignments.
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