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I cried with them, cheered with them
Letter from Sydney
Nov-Dec 2000




During the 16 days of the Games, I stayed with the Juddanis, who were excellent hosts. The three-generation household were sports fans ... When I returned home from my late night shifts, I found myself playing sports commentator on the day's hockey action and presenting a preview of the next day.




It's strange how we sometimes come full circle. My last brush with sports writing was during the 1993 Southeast Asian Games held in Singapore, when I was reporting for The Straits Times. Since that stint, I moved on to various other beats but never did I imagine that here I would be in Australia at Sydney 2000 covering hockey for the Olympic News Service

The opportunity came up a year ago when the news service went looking for volunteers from various Australian universities. I went through a thorough interview and made the grade. After months of online training and numerous briefings, I write this from Sydney's Hockey Centre where the news team was tasked to file match reports, press conference highlights and interview players. Each sporting venue had its own press centre, where a team diligently reported, just like a conventional news wire service, serving the needs of international sports journalists.

As Olympic fever caught on, I couldn't help but marvel at technology's impact on the Games. The astroturf hockey pitch was a world first - made of a water-based synthetic material invented in Australia. Sophisticated equipment was set up to ensure full coverage of the sporting action. A record 140 million global audience watched the excitement.

There were numerous other firsts but the one that chuffed Australians no end was when the outgoing International Olympics Committee chairman Juan Samaranch called it the “best Olympic Games ever”.

And I enjoyed a first-hand view of the action although it became more than a sporting event for me.
the press pack
The press pack - more photos

During the 16 days of the Games, I stayed with some family friends, the Juddanis, who were excellent hosts. The three-generation household were sports fans from Grandpa Juddani down to the family “baby”, 16-year-old Minu. When I returned home from my late night shifts, I found myself playing sports commentator on the day's hockey action and presenting a preview of the following day.

We'd have late night meals in front of the telly, tuned to the sports channel, and in between switching from the 24-hour SimpsonsFest and brief surfs of Hindi ballads on ZeeTV (popular Indian channel), there would be a celebration of sporting triumphs.
The Juddani family
The Juddani family - more photos

I'd hear an occasional moan from Salim, the 18-year-old who, unfortunately, was sitting for his Higher School Certificate in weeks and couldn’t be as wholehearted in his enjoyment of the Games. Still, he did manage to catch the American basketball Dream Team, but only after 12-hour study blocks to cover his sacrifice.

Later he told me: "The atmosphere was great, and was worth the extra hours of study I had to put in. I wish I could have volunteered too."

As a volunteer, I'd wake up in a daze each day and head for Olympic Park, togged out in my official black ONS tee and beige trousers, wearing my exclusive volunteer Swatch watch.
I would be armed with my press pass, raring to be checked by security thrice before making it to the press gallery for my daily dose of hockey.

I heard on the grapevine that some volunteers were offered thousands of dollars for their official Olympic gear. Unfortunately, I was not one of them. Short of carrying a large placard saying I'd happily sell my prized belongings, I couldn't think of how else I could draw such dazzling offers.

While watching the various teams in action, I reminisced about my days on the pitch, and felt the urge to grab a stick and join in. New Zealander Mandy Smith, German Bretta Bricker, Briton Marston-Smith (all three who wore No. 12 jerseys, had identical playing styles and uncannily similar appearances), Dutchman Stephan Veen, Pakistani Alam Ahmad dazzled with their stickwork and quickly became my idols.

I understood completely why local gymnasiums, sports centres and pools saw a sudden surge in membership immediately after the Games. These were obviously people inspired to get a taste of personal action.


Alam Ahmad, Pakistani goalkeeper
Alam Ahmad,
Pakistani goalkeeper - more photos
I found myself becoming immersed with the teams, their playing style, and game strategies. My fellow-reporters and I could not help but cheer them on as we shared their triumphs and losses.

It was amazing to watch individual sportspeople turn the game around through sheer will power and skill. Spectator support especially was monumental. Australia's multicultural background allowed teams like Pakistan, India, Korea, China with few travelling fans local support which surely strengthened their might.



"There is nothing to be nervous about. We have the support of 1.3 billion people back home."


When I asked Wang Jiuyan of the Chinese team who were first time qualifiers in Olympic hockey whether they were daunted by the tremendous crowd support for the home team, she said, "There is nothing to be nervous about. We have the support of 1.3 billion people back home."

If it became emotionally tough for me to interview players as the games progressed and teams were knocked out of medal contention, it was a roller-coaster ride for the players.


Few are aware that behind the scenes, there were counselling teams very understaffed who worked overtime with very disappointed athletes. As tearful Spanish goalkeeper Elena Carrion said to me, "We dreamt and dreamt (of a medal) and finally the dream is now over."

But when their dream came true, I also basked in their reflected glory. So here I am cherishing my treasured autograph on the back of my media pass from retiring Dutchman Veen who scored four beautiful goals on his way to gold in the final.

Here's to the world's sportspeople on a job well done with or without the medals. I’ll still be talking about their efforts for a long time to come.

The writer is editor of fineArtforum.org, an art and technology online news service
and online journalism lecturer at Queensland University of Technology.

     

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