In the build-up, the city spent a lot of loot. As the Opening Ceremony loomed, there was tension in the air as we wondered if the investment would be worth it. But once the balloon cleared the guttering, the city breathed a sigh of relief as the rabbit was finally in motion and it looked good.
The collective wisdom ran, “we have spent all this money, this show will never be here again, we may as well get stuck in and have the time of our lives”. Remember those feeling less inclined to party had already fled the city.
Along with the city, Roy Slaven and I got lucky when Channel Seven asked us to make two hours of television every night the Olympic flame glowed above Stadium Australia.
The Dream gave us a particular platform from which to view the five-ringed circus. We wondered before the jump how could this show possibly work. But it became one the great treats of a lifetime spent yelling at sport on television.
The Dream let loose the great Roy and H.G. theme of making the trivial serious and the serious trivial. Our longwinded attack was given full bore as Seven gave us hours of airtime to roam about.
We got lucky early when Eric Moussambani turned up from Equatorial Guinea to swim the 100 metres. He had never seen or swum in an Olympic swimming pool before he plunged in for his heat. He took the race out hard and brought it home in struggling style to the cheers of the big crowd crammed into the aquatic centre. Eric tackled the heat solo as his two competitors were disqualified after false starts.
Eric “the Eel” clocked the slowest time in Olympic history but won the hearts of the nation and set a new national record for Equatorial Guinea. From The Dream’s perch, The Olympics suddenly were “AWAY!” (thanks very much Bruce McAvaney). “The Eel” got the whole shebang off to a flyer. These Games would be different.
Roy and I also got lucky when we invented a language to unlock the miracle of the mat. Hullo Boys, Crazy Date, the Dutch Wink, Spinning Date, Battered Sav and Honey I Am Home suddenly explained the many prongs of the gymnastics competition to an audience that usually swerved when it bobbed up on the sporting agenda.
What luck it was to find that the tunes of Barry White and the Love Unlimited Orchestra were the perfect sound track for the mystery and the mayhem of Greco-Roman wrestling. The caper is impossible to understand. Even the competitors admit they are clueless about the rules. Dial up the comp on Youtube. It’s a tight fit.
Our luck held to the very end. John Farnham blew into the studio and belted out Go You Good Thing as the curtain came down on a fortnight of golden sporting adventures.
We were lucky away from competition too as the official mascots of Ollie, Millie and Dickhead were such rubbish that a fat-arsed wombat named Fatso was able, with the help of athletes and the public, to back door his way into the nation’s affections, becoming a genuine icon of Olympic mascot history.
When the mascots’ bomb-off for gold was the feature event on the closing card at the diving pool, The Battler’s Prince did not disappoint. He brought home gold when the other pillows powdered.
The city reached a peak and the luck held. The weather was incredible. The bogong moths fluttered by. The trains stayed on their tracks. The traffic flowed easily. There was a place for everyone, whether at the events, the live sites, the post-hooter happenings or slumped in front of the TV for the whole fortnight.
Luck and a sense of fun propelled the Sydney Olympics to arguably “the greatest games of all”. It’s the luck that needs to recaptured.
The city looks back from this weirdest of times, when the view ahead looks bleak. But the great events and the big occasions will come again. The city will be lucky and reach other big peaks again, but I’m not sure how many of us will be around to see them.
HG Nelson (aka Greig Pickhaver) broadcast The Dream with Roy Slaven (John Doyle) during the Sydney Olympic Games.