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Sydney Olympic Games, 2000

The exceptionally well-organised Sydney Games were a true celebration of Olympic values and sporting excellence.
Olympic Committee

The Sydney Olympic Games were held from 15 September to 1 October 2000. Sydney was awarded the right to host the 2000 Olympic Games in 1993. It was the second time that an Australian city had hosted the Olympic Games, the first being in Melbourne in 1956. The first Olympic Games of the modern era were held in Athens in 1896 following the founding of the International Olympic Committee in 1894. The Olympics began in Greece about 3,500 years ago but were discontinued in 393 AD. In 1887, Baron Pierre de Coubertin came up with the idea of reviving the Olympics.

At the Sydney 2000 Olympics there were 199 competing countries and four individual athletes from East Timor who marched in the parade of nations. There were 10,651 athletes (4,069 women, 6,582 men). There were 300 events. One of the extraordinary characteristics of the Sydney Olympics was the number of volunteers, 46,967, which had grown from an original group of 500, honoured in a parade through the city after the games. The extent of interest world-wide in the Olympics is reflected in the 16,033 accredited media people (5,298 written press, 10,735 broadcasters).

Highlights – 100 years of women's participation

Cathy Freeman wins gold in the 400m. Image courtesy of the ABC.

Sydney 2000 celebrated 100 years of women's participation in the Olympic Games. The Triathlon made its Olympic debut with the women's race as the first event. Brigitte McMahon of Switzerland swam, cycled and ran to win gold and beat the favoured Australian athlete Michelie Jones who won silver. McMahon only passed Jones in sight of the finish line.

Taekwondo was another new addition to the Olympic programme. Australian Lauren Burns, won gold in taekwondo, women's -49kg. Roared on by home fans, Burns surged ahead to 4-2 in the second round after being tied at the end of first round. Susanthika Jayasinghe became the first Sri Lankan woman to win a medal, claiming bronze in the 200m, whilst Birgit Fischer of Germany earned two gold medals in kayaking to become the first woman in any sport to win medals 20 years apart, having won gold at the Moscow, Barcelona and Atlanta Olympic Games.

Women also took part in weightlifting and the modern pentathlon for the very first time. Australian Maria Pekli, won silver in judo for the women's 57kg. Other Australian women gold medal winners included Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst for beach volleyball, and Jenny Armstrong and Belinda Stowell for sailing, in the women's 470 class. The Australian women's hockey, softball and water polo teams also showed their excellence in winning gold.

Opening ceremony and Olympic Flame

Sydney 200 opening ceremony. Image courtesy of the ABC.

The opening ceremony began with a tribute to Australian culture, history and identity with over 120 Australian stock horses stepping out, paying tribute to Australian stockmen. Performances that followed included references to the arrival of the First Fleet, immigration and rural industry as well as a large display of lawnmowers and an Australian Hill's hoist clothes line representing domestic life and ingenuity.

Music and performance highlights of the opening were two hundred (200) Indigenous women from Central Australia dancing to cleanse and protect the Games and hundreds of tap-dancing teenagers. Olivia Newton-John and John Farnham sang the duet 'Dare to Dream' while walking among the athletes. Torres Strait Islander Christine Anu sang 'My Island Home' and the Australian National Anthem was sung by the boy band Human Nature with the second verse sung by Julie Anthony.

The games were opened by the Australian Governor-General Sir William Deane with the Olympic Flag carried around the arena by eight former Australian Olympic champions: Bill Roycroft, Murray Rose, Liane Tooth, Gillian Rolton, Marjorie Jackson, Lorraine Crapp, Michael Wenden and Nick Green.

Cathy Freeman lighting the Olympic Flame. Image courtesy of the ABC.

The opening ceremony concluded with the lighting of the Olympic Flame. Former Australian Olympic champion Herb Elliott brought the Olympic Flame into the stadium. Then, celebrating 100 years of women's participation in the Olympic Games, former Australian women Olympic champions: Betty Cuthbert and Raelene Boyle, Dawn Fraser, Shirley Strickland (later Shirley Strickland de la Hunty), Shane Gould and Debbie Flintoff-King brought the torch through the stadium, handing it over to Cathy Freeman.

The longest ever Olympic torch relay brought the Olympic flame from Greece to Sydney. After travelling through the South Pacific, the flame was carried around Australia for 100 days.

Cathy Freeman, an Australian athlete, had the honour of lighting the Olympic torch, lighting the flame in the cauldron within a circle of fire. This emotional moment helped symbolise the desire to reconcile with the Aboriginal populations of Australia. Ten days later, she won the 400m final before an ecstatic crowd.

Sports and Australian medal winners

Australian's medal tally reflected its strengths in swimming, boating (rowing, sailing and kayak), cycling, shooting, horse-riding, archery and tennis. These are sporting traditions well developed as national past-times in Australia over two hundred years. Indigenous athlete Cathy Freeman's win of the women's 400 metres run also reflected the elegance, strength and rhythm inherent in Freeman's talent, determination and dedication as an athlete, showcasing Australia's Indigenous athletic skills.

Swimmer Ian Thorpe

Ian Thorpe wins the men's 400m Freestyle gold. Image courtesy of the ABC.

After competing in just two Olympic Games, Ian Thorpe became the most decorated Australian swimmer in Olympic history. Ian Thorpe entered the 2000 Sydney Games being just 17 years old. Racing in the 400m freestyle on the first day of competition, he won the gold medal and broke his own world record. Thorpe was nicknames 'the Thorpedo' by the media.

Just one hour later, Thorpe beat Gary Hall Jr of the US in a thrilling finish to the 4x100m freestyle relay. However, in a surprise result, he had to settle for silver behind Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands in the 200m freestyle [with half a second difference in the time]. Thorpe finished the Sydney Games with a haul of three gold and two silver medals.


Swimming was a highlight for Australia, winning medals in seventeen events. Another Australian gold medal winner was Susie O'Neill, winning the women's 200m freestyle swimming. Grant Hackett won gold in the 1500 metres men's freestyle beating rival Australian swimmer Kieran Perkins, one of the world's best-ever long-distance swimmers, Perkins having won two Olympic gold medals in 1992 and 1996.

Silver medal winners in the swimming included:

Grand Hackett winning the 1500 metres freestyle gold. Image courtesy of the ABC.

  • Regan Harrison, Geoff Huegill, Michael Klim, Matt Welsh, Ryan Mitchell, Adam Pine, Josh Watson, Ian Thorpe, men's 4x100m medley relay
  • Leisel Jones, women's 100m breaststroke
  • Susie O'Neill, women's 200m butterfly
  • Susie O'Neill, Giann Rooney, Petria Thomas, Kirsten Thomson, Elka Graham, Jacinta Van Lint, women's 4x200m freestyle relay
  • Keiren Perkins, men's 1500m freestyle
  • Ian Thorpe, men's 200m freestyle
  • Matt Welsh, men's 100m backstroke

Bronze medal winners in the swimming showed strong form in the butterfly and backstroke:

  • Geoff Huegill, men's 100m butterfly
  • Justin Norris, men's 200m butterfly
  • Petria Thomas, women's 200m butterfly
  • Matt Welsh, men's 200m backstroke

The swimming medal tally was complemented by Bronze medals for synchronised diving with Rebecca Gilmore and Loudy Tourky, in the women's, 10m platform and Robert Newberry, with Dean Pullar in the men's 3m springboard event.

Rowing, sailing and kayak

Rowing featured strongly with silver for Darren Balmforth, Simon Burgess, Anthony Edwards and Robert Richards for the men's lightweight coxless four. The rowing men's eight also won silver. Tom King and Mark Turnbull won silver in the men's 470 class in sailing. Daniel Collins and Andrew Trim won silver in the kayak, for the men's K2 500 metres race.

Michael Diamond wins men's trap shooting gold. Image courtesy of the ABC.

Bronze medals in rowing, sailing and kayak for Australia went to:

  • Matthew Lang, James Tomkins, rowing, men's coxless pair
  • Michael Blackburn, sailing, laser class
  • Katrin Borchert, kayak, women's K1 500m.

Cycling - Individual and team efforts

Australia showed its strength in cycling with medals across five classes. Gold was won by Brett Aitken and Scott McGrory, for men's madison. A silver medal was won by Michelle Ferris for cycling in the women's 500m trial.

Bronze medal winners in cycling were:

  • Sean Eadie, Darryn Hill and Gary Neiwand, team sprint
  • Shane Kelly, men's 1km time trial
  • Brad McGee, men's 4000m individual pursuit.

Phillip Dutton on House Doctor winning gold in the 3 day Equestrian event. Image courtesy of the ABC.

Shooting, archery and equestrian

In an exciting and nerve wracking shoot, Michael Diamond won gold for men's trap shooting, with team mate Russell Mark, winning silver for men's double trap. Annemarie Forder won bronze for shooting in women's 10m air pistol. Simon Fairweather won silver in archery for the men's individual.

Phillip Dutton, Andrew Hoy, Stuart Tinney and Matt Ryan won gold in the 3-day equestrian team event and Andrew Hoy won silver in the individual three-day equestrian event, following a strong showing winning medals in the previous Olympics in Atlanta.

Tennis doubles

The Woodies. Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge with their silver medals. Image courtesy of the ABC.

To top it off, another strong doubles pair, amongst the other team medallists, the 'two Woodies' Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, won silver for tennis in men's doubles.


The marathon was one of the original modern Olympic events in 1896, though the distance did not become standardized until 1921. The distance commemorated the run of the Greek messenger Pheidippides from the Battle of Marathon to Athens as a symbol of the link between the modern and the ancient Olympics. The official distance is 42.195 kilometres (26 miles and 385 yards).

The tradition of the marathon being the last event of the games was continued in Sydney with the Men's Marathon contested on a course that started in North Sydney, heading across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to finish in the stadium prior to the closing ceremony. In Sydney 2000, the event was won by Ethiopian Genzhnge Abera, with Eric Wananina second and Tesefe Tola, also of Ethiopia third. It was the first time since the 1968 Olympics that an Ethiopian had won the gold medal in this event.

The Festivals – national and international arts

The tradition of cultural festivities and the Olympic Games stems from the philosophy of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who saw the Games as an expression of the excellence of both mind and body. A cultural program is not an optional extra. It is a requirement. The Charter of the Modern Olympic Games requires the host city and country to present a program of national and international arts.

Sydney chose to present a series of Olympic Arts Festivals over the four years of the Cultural Olympiad (1997-2000), each with a different theme and emphasis.

The Festival of the Dreaming.

1997 – The Festival of the Dreaming

Artistic Director, Rhoda Roberts oversaw the extensive Festival of the Dreaming from 14 September to 6 October 1997 in Sydney, one of the largest indigenous arts festivals yet to be held in the world. The festival had 30 exhibitions, 14 dance and theatre productions, eight performance troupes, 50 films, a literature program, three concerts and a number of special commissions.

The Festival of the Dreaming, the first of its kind in Australia, celebrated the world's indigenous cultures, especially those of the Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. Events in Centennial Park entranced audiences entering the park at night - the trees alive with the sound of birds as the country would have heard them at the time of colonisation - stepping through fire lit paths to encounter hovering Mimi spirits in mid-air, glimpsed as ethereal figures on stilts.

The Festival of the Dreaming promoted a greater awareness and appreciation of Australia's Indigenous heritage to visitors. Most of the content was Australian, with additional representation from indigenous cultures from around the world, including the United States of America, Canada, Greenland, Korea, New Zealand, Western Samoa and Papua New Guinea. The festival explored the experience of indigenous people from its earliest origins to the impact of other cultures.

Many of the projects from The Festival of the Dreaming toured nationally in 1998.

1998 – A Sea Change

A Sea Change was the second Olympic Arts Festival held in the lead up to the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Artistic director, Andrea Stretton selected a wide range of events from all states and territories, communities large and small. Combined, they focused on 'transformations in Australian culture', and celebrated Australia's development into a multicultural society and the impact of immigration.

1999 – Reaching the World

The third festival was also directed by Andrea Stretton. It took examples of Australian visual and performing arts to the rest of the world, expressing the unique spirit of Australia's cultural life.

2000 – Harbour of Life

For the 2000 Sydney Olympic Arts Festival, the director, Leo Scofield brought together six weeks of sounds and spectacles in areas of: symphony, opera, dance, jazz, cabaret, choral music, visual arts exhibitions, film and photography. The performances included many world premieres as well as especially commissioned works from Australian and international artists. It was presented as a global program with global events.

Useful links

Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics - Olympic Games official site

2000 Summer Olympics - Wikipedia

Australia's Medal Tally

Sydney 2000 Olympic Games

Last updated: 12th November 2013
Creators: Kathryn Wells

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