Held spellbound on a magic night
OLYMPICS 1012/DEFINING MOMENTS:Has there ever been a day in Olympic history to rival Sydney on Monday, September 25th, 2000? Showdown after showdown on an epic night, writes IAN O'RIORDAN
THEY CAME to witness Australia’s moment of glory, and ended up dazzled by the greatest night in the history of track and field. Nine finals, one epic showdown after another, plus some Olympic redemption at last for our own Sonia O’Sullivan.
Has there ever been a day in the life of the Olympics to rival Monday, September 25th, 2000? Will anything in London even come close? No amount of money, hype, or organisation can ever guarantee what unfolded in Sydney almost 12 years ago – although here’s hoping.
4pm, Sydney local time: The turnstiles open, the crowds spill hurriedly through, and soon Sydney’s Olympic Stadium is filled to a capacity 112,574. There’s a slight chill in the air, and a nervous excitement too. This fourth day of track and field begins with bad news: American shot putter CJ Hunter, the reigning world champion, had tested positive for the steroid nandrolone, back in July, which helps explain his sudden withdrawal from Sydney.
It also leaves Hunter’s wife Marion Jones with some explaining to do, despite her claims she knew nothing about it. Jones had won the women’s 100 metres, two days previous, yet her “drive for five” is suddenly shaken – and subsequently proven a sham. Not that the Australian crowd is bothered by it all, as their own more natural wonder woman, Cathy Freeman, is preparing to make her second grand entrance.
After lighting the Olympic flame 10 days earlier, in a moment of emotional Australian unity, the 27-year-old Freeman, with distinct Aboriginal origins, is expected to deliver their first track and field gold medal.
6pm, Women’s Pole Vault: They gather under the Olympic flame, all 13 of them and the event itself making their Olympic debut. Considered by some a sort of novelty show, the women’s pole vault is proving as exciting as the men’s – thanks to the former American rodeo star Stacy Dragila. In the weeks before Sydney she’d twice broken the world record, and wooed the crowd in the process. Here the Australians are being wowed by Tatiana Grigorieva, the former Russian who’d switched allegiance in time for Sydney.
Neither of them had feared Vala Flosadottir, yet she takes the lead after the fourth round with 4.50 metres, set to become Iceland’s first ever female Olympic medallist. Dragila is just one vault away from missing a medal altogether, but recovers, then ends up battling with Grigorieva for gold. After nearly three hours Dragila finally clears 4.60, Grigorieva narrowly fails, while joining them on the medal podium is the teary-eyed Flosadottir. Amazing.