Sydney: 20 Years Since The “Best Games Ever”

20 years ago today Sydney welcomed the world for “the Best Games Ever”. The world has changed a lot since then, but the Games put Australia on the map.

Wander around the sprawling 683-hectare Olympic Park site at Homebush, about 14 kilometres west of Sydney’s CBD, and you can’t help but feel you’re in a state-of-the-art ghost town.

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing the cancellation of concerts, numerous sporting fixtures and the annual Sydney Royal Easter Show, the precinct that hosted the Sydney 2000 Olympics has fallen eerily quite.

It’s in stark contrast to the celebrations that occurred there exactly 20 years ago today when more than 112,000 people packed the Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony.

The opening ceremony was full of memorable moments, from child star Nikki Webster’s debut to an array of colourful floats, including a group of surf lifesavers carrying an oversized spool of rope.

Then there was Australia’s golden girl, athlete Cathy Freeman, lighting the Olympic flame, albeit with a now infamous malfunction. Freeman went on to win a gold medal in the 400 metres 10 nights later.

To mark the 20 year anniversary, the Australian Olympic Committee re-created the memorable moment today (below), when the cauldron was reignited – this time without a hitch.

Freeman could not travel to Sydney from Melbourne for the occasion, due to COVID travel restrictions.

The 2000 Olympics fast-tracked Sydney as one of the world’s great tourism destinations.

Around 6.3 million international tourists visited Sydney during the Games, with the state of New South Wales benefiting from the global exposure for many years to come.

By 2004, an extra 2.1 million international tourists had visited the city and surrounds, pumping $4 billion into the local economy.

One of the lasting legacies of the 2000 Olympics has been the transformation of a once derelict industrial site into usable space and parklands.

The precinct – home to the Sydney Aquatic Centre and major stadiums like Qudos Bank Arena and ANZ Stadium – help attract more than 10 million people every year to Olympic Park.

Even the former athlete’s village is now a solar-powered suburb known as Newington.

But two decades on – with international borders closed (including many state borders) due to the coronavirus pandemic – the site best remembered for one of Australia’s greatest achievements feels vastly empty.

There are no concerts, no major sporting events and no exhibitions. Without them, people have little reason to visit.

Just strolling down Olympic Boulevarde, where the saplings have now thickened into trees, you’d be lucky to see another person.

The iconic Olympic cauldron, which usually attracts eager selfie-takers in a corner of Cathy Freeman Park, cuts a lonely figure most days.

It’s a far cry from the colourful party atmosphere on this day 20 years ago when Sydney strutted itself on the global stage.


© 2020 Bernard O’Riordan (Travel Instinct). All Rights Reserved.

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