EDITORS — With the Tokyo Olympics postponed for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, The Associated Press is looking back at the history of Summer Games. Here are some of the highlights of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
After igniting the cauldron to open the first Games of the millennium, Cathy Freeman lit up Sydney Olympic Stadium again 10 nights later by winning an era-defining gold medal for Australia.
Images of Freeman in the luminescent full-length costume she wore at the opening ceremony and in her hooded, full-length racing suit have become iconic of the 2000 Olympics. She was the first person to light the cauldron and win a gold medal at the same Olympics.
Freeman surged past Lorraine Graham and Katharine Merry to win the women’s 400 meters in front of 112,524 spectators. After unzipping her racing suit and sitting down on the track to take off her running shoes, Freeman collected the red, yellow and black Aboriginal flag and the Australian flag for a victory lap.
It was Australia’s 100th Olympic gold medal, and one of significance. Freeman had been criticized in 1994 by a team official when she carried the two flags to celebrate a victory at the Commonwealth Games. But after becoming the first Aboriginal person from Australia to win an individual Olympic gold, she was universally celebrated.
“The whole story has become larger than who I am,” Freeman said in a reflection for the International Olympic Committee. She played a powerful role for the reconciliation movement in Australia, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have become the most disadvantaged minority group since British settlement in 1788.
Influential Olympic figure Sebastian Coe later described that Sept. 25, 2000, session of track and field as the best he'd ever seen. That night also featured Michael Johnson defending his 400 title, Jonathan Edwards winning the triple jump, and a classic 10,000 final when Haile Gebrselassie edged Paul Tergat in a sprint finish.
After two weeks of hearing “no worries, mate” from chirpy volunteers and ’Oi, oi, oi!” from Aussie crowds, long-time IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch gave the games his highest rating, declaring Sydney as the “best Olympic Games ever.”
DUEL IN THE POOL
A 17-year-old Ian Thorpe set the tone on his first day of competition with a world record in the 400-meter freestyle before anchoring the Australian team to a dramatic win in the 4x100 freestyle relay by overhauling American Gary Hall Jr. But it was the U.S. team that surged back to win the duel in the pool, taking 14 golds against five apiece for Australia and Netherlands. Sprinters Inge de Bruijn (3) and Pieter van den Hoogenband (2) collected all the Dutch gold medals between them.
ERIC THE EEL
Eric Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea won the hearts of the crowd and millions watching on TV when he swam in the 100-meter freestyle despite the fact he’d only trained for a few months.
Some feared Moussambani would drown as he flailed, almost without putting his head in the water, but he managed to complete two laps solo.
Moussambani received a raucous, standing ovation despite his slow time and became one of the unlikely heroes of the games.
In one of the biggest shockers, Russian wrestler Alexander Karelin, a three-time defending gold medalist, lost the super heavyweight title match to American outsider Rulon Gardner.
Gardner, who’d never won a major medal, later said of his win: “It wasn’t until it was over that I knew I could.”
Samaranch had attended the final expecting to present a fourth Olympic gold medal to Karelin, who had never lost in international competition and had not surrendered a point in a decade.
U.S. sprinter Marion Jones was among the biggest stars of the games, finishing with three gold medals — including the 100- and 200-meters — and two bronzes.
She achieved this despite the backdrop of allegations her husband, shot putter C.J. Hunter, had used steroids and was caught in a pre-Games test.
Jones repeatedly denied doping but, in 2007, she admitted lying to federal agents about her use of performance-enhancing drugs before the Sydney Games and pleaded guilty in court. She spent six months in jail and the IOC stripped Jones of all five of her Olympic medals.
The gold medal for the women's 100 in Sydney was not re-awarded.
Steve Redgrave became Britain's most successful Olympian when his crew won the coxless fours, giving him rowing gold medals at five consecutive Olympics. Redgrave won his first Olympic gold in the coxed fours at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, and retired after winning in Sydney.
GIVING IT A TRI
Triathlon made its Olympic debut with Brigitte McMahon winning the women’ gold for Switzerland, passing Aussie Michelie Jones in the shadows of the Sydney Opera House in one of the events of the Games.
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AP Sports Writer John Pye reported from Sydney for the year leading into the 2000 Games.