Sunday, August 12, 2012

Another Closing Ceremony

As I prepare to watch the Closing Ceremony of London 2012 tonight my mind is taken back to another closing ceremony - that of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

At that time I was a teacher at MLC School who had volunteered to chaperone a group of students who were performing in the opening and closing ceremonies. I posted my reflections on an educational listserv at the time. Here is what I wrote nearly 12 years ago.

Sunday was a very long day. At 9:00 am I met my MLC girls at our transport hub from which we were bussed to the Olympic site. It was a sunny day with big winds. On arrival we were allocated our space for the day at SIAC (Sydney International Athletics Centre - used during the games as a warm-up field for track and field) - a sloped section of damp grass - this was to be my home till 11:30 pm. It had no shade,shelter or comfortable seating. On arrival we collected our lunch - sandwiches, fruit, cake, muesli bar and drink.

The girls were called for dress rehearsal about 11:30 - I was supposed to sit with the bags for the afternoon. No way!! I had proper accreditation, a lot of front and the encouragement of my girls who said "Just get in the middle of us and come into the stadium". So I did. I planted myself in a front row seat to witness the afternoon's proceedings. There were policemen and security people all around but no-one challenged me. Two teachers from another school had girls absent from their groups so they got the girls costumes, put them on and took the place of the kids in the show. They just made sure that they kept their hats down over their eyes and didn't go near the production staff!!

The dress rehearsal was an absolute schmozzle. As the centre stage was still under construction (and still was when we left at 4:00pm) no rehearsals could take place on the stage. Many of the performers were lined up under the stadiun waiting to rehearse but didn't get a chance because of technical difficulties and the march of time. Other performers came on and had to practise on the grass. Some artists only had the opportunity for a sound check. Some of the large inflatible figures deflated in the middle of their item. David Atkins, the director, appeared to remain cool during the proceedings - I would have been tearing my hair out.

 As we walked back to SIAC the girls and I wondered how the show would ever come together at night. Faced with a cold night on the damp grass I decided to follow the girls into the stadium for the Opening Ceremony. Level 0, under the Olympic Stadium (from where the athletes enter) is like a mini-city. There is a road under the track, parking for ambulances and service vehicles, storage rooms, offices, kitchens, toilets and goods lifts. My girls were performing in the stands and had said there'd surely be empty seats in their section - but I had to find the girls. I have no sense of direction - so I spent a fruitless hour wandering around under the stadium trying to find the correct entrance- my accreditation got me to all areas - I stood at the tunnel and watched the marathon runners enter the stadium, I rubbed shoulders with the VIPs in their entry foyer, I got into the press area. I asked numerous staff for directions to the entry I wanted but due to a combination of their scanty knowledge of stadium layout and my lack of spatial skills I had to give up and go back to my wet grass.

I procured an unattended chair and space blanket and tried to keep warm while listening to the Ceremony and reading my book. It was still awesome being on the periphery - I saw and felt the fighter plane fly over as the flame was extinguished, I heard Juan Antonio lead the crowd in Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi, I could see the crowd in the stands waving their torches along with the music and I was only a fence away from the fireworks launch site. I took heaps of close-up photos of shivering performers as they lined up to exit SIAC and make their way to the stadium.

The MLC girls were exhultant when they returned to me - they'd been on the field mixing with the athletes, getting autographs, swapping pins and falling in love (so easy at 16) .... they couldn't believe that such a disastrous dress rehearsal could turn in to such a perfect performance. There was a transport lockdown which meant we had to hang around until the Olympic family had left the precinct. This gave time for the girl who wanted to marry the Mexican hunk to cool down before I delivered her back to her parents at the transport hub. With my charges back in parental care I headed for home.

When I woke on Monday I wondered if the last two weeks had been a dream or if I'd really been to the Olympics.

It was an affair to remember.

1 comment:

Joan said...

I am so glad you took the time to write down those memories --- and to share them today. Not everyone has the chance to be up close and personal with the Olympics. Thanks


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