Sydney. Tonight somebody somewhere in the building I'm staying in was playing Louis Armstrong records.

The last full day of competition before the Olympics circus folds its tent and moves on. Sydney will probably never see anything of this kind again--in the city there's an element of melancholy mixed with anticipation. Tomorrow night a 14-km stretch from the Olympic Stadium to the Harbor Bridge will be exploding with fireworks as soon as the Closing Ceremony ends. Reportedly 40% more fireworks than last year's pretty awesome New Year's Eve ones. But first, the Men's Marathon, which begins at 4 p.m. in North Sydney, crosses the Harbor Bridge, and follows much the same route as the Women's last Saturday. The famous blue line painted on the road surface.

This week:
People strolling about wearing Australian-flag t-shirts, something they'll probably never have the nerve to wear again.
Others strolling about draped in the Union Jack, or Japanese, Brazilian, Greek, Norwegian flags.
"Can an Irishwoman win a gold medal in track & field?!" (Australian TV commentator's exclamation during the women's 800m final.)
Pin mania. Pin traders displaying their wares at Darling Harbor and Belmore Park. Had assumed pin-collecting was an activity restricted to trainspotting no-life nerds...then I spotted the Sydney 2000 Sports Illustrated "Guest" pin and knew I couldn't rest until I possessed it. It was like a mirage--there at a trader's one day, gone the next and not to be found elsewhere. When I tracked it down again at various places the price varied from A$30 to $125. Crazy. At last got it for $25--and five minutes later saw it on another trader's tray for $15. For a person who had no previous interest in this field, I now have a total of 5 Sydney pins (including one of a limited edition of 10,000), 2 from Munich 1972 (one shows a pistol against a stylized target--ha ha!), 1 from Moscow 1980 (a map of the USSR with "CCCP" on it), and a Chinese star from Atlanta 1996 (Atlanta pins were produced in such bulk that there's now a glut and they're virtually valueless). And there's still tomorrow...
The women's 400m final on Monday night. The Aboriginal runner Cathy Freeman was competing for Australia, and to the observer the nation seemed obsessed by this event. Somebody said later that the streets were deserted for the duration--everyone had gone somewhere to watch it on TV or one of the open-air video screens. Somebody else said later that as soon as Freeman appeared on the track in her full bodysuit you knew she had to win--in that outfit it would've been too ridiculous not to. Applause, always loud for an Australian competitor, was probably triple in volume even before her name was announced. And when she won, hardened cynics were misty-eyed and grinning; to some Australians there was a greater significance than just the winning of a race: she had, for the moment, brought the entire country--black, white, Asian--together. The 110,000 spectators in the Stadium were so overwhelmed that when they sang the national anthem they were ahead of the orchestral accompaniment, and almost drowned it out. As a Sydney newspaper's front page headline (above a photograph of Freeman with her gold medal) stated the next day: "For All of Us".

September 9, 2000
September 12, 2000
September 14, 2000
September 15, 2000
September 18, 2000
September 24, 2000
September 29, 2000
October 1, 2000
October 2, 2000