Confessions of an Olympic Games Commentator

Jul 26, 2012 by     2 Comments    Posted under: cycling, Olympics, triathlon

I’m very fortunate in life generally, but perhaps the greatest 2 weeks of my life was at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.  I’d love to be in London right now, largely because I still have friends competing, but I’m really not sure if I’d enjoy being an ordinary ticket holder, after the virtually “go anywhere” experience with press access I had in Sydney.

How did I obtain the holy grail of sports fandom?  Well, it involved many years of groundwork, some deliberate and some random career moves, but it largely was because of triathlon.   I was recently interviewed by a University Professor doing a study on the history of triathlon, and it reminded me of just how big a part triathlon has played in my life, and the experiences that it led to.  As a significant part of my life journey I’d been digging into my memories (those that are not hazy due to excessive “recovery” parties, or blank due to race-induced oxygen deprivation).

My “connections” to the Olympics are too many to explain in detail, but to name a few: advisor to Olympic athletes; lawyer for Olympic athlete sponsors; member of NSW Olympic Council (educational arm of the movement); was on the World Governing Body for triathlon (head of Constitutional Council) during the period of acceptance into the Olympics, dated an Olympic swimmer; had my butt kicked by many future Olympians; and was an announcer for a number of Olympic test events and 4 main events at the Sydney 2000 Games.  Making the experience more significant was that 2000 was the first time ever that triathlon had been in the Olympic Games, AND the women’s triathlon was THE opening event of the Games.  On a perfect, blue-skied, crisp morning on September 17 2000 the Olympics opened up with scantily clad, fit and determined women leaping into Sydney Harbor right beside the Sydney Opera House and in the shadow of the Harbour Bridge, and, strangely thinking about it now, with the sound of my voice.  Of course I wasn’t the only voice – I was working alongside living Australian triathlon legend Marc Dragan, the English “Phil Liggett” of triathlon Steve Trew, and Olympic pentathlete turned triathlete Nici Andronicus.  Nici and I stood on the blue carpet in the forecourt of the Opera House, the playing field for one of the most significant moments in triathlon history, microphones in hand, and talked to the crowd of around 100,000 (an estimated 400,000 line the course for the men’s event the next day).  At the time it was incredibly exciting, and looking back I realize what a privilege it was to have that role.

Nici Andronicus and Mark Fewell, announcing start of the Olympic triathlon at Sydney Opera House

The sheer sense of professional fulfillment was only topped by the experience on day 2 when Canada’s Simon Whitfield won Gold in the men’s race.  This is one of my favorite memories, partly because it was an unexpected victory, and also as I had seen his development as a friend from the age of around 14.  Of course I had a lot of friends and triathlon colleagues racing those days, but Simon was part of our Manly Beach family and had always been a fun, if sometimes triathlon-nerdy, kid.  Seeing him at Home nightclub that week doing interviews with the funniest Olympic journalists in history, Roy and HG, and then dancing with that gold medal around his neck, was something to see.  Jan Rehula from the Czech Republic, another summer resident of the Northern Beaches, won bronze, so all who knew them well felt like they had won something too.  And of course, Michellie Jones of Australia was pipped at the post and pushed into a silver medal spot, by a Swiss triathlete who vanished into obscurity a few years later when tested positive for EPO, so in my mind MJ won too.

Nici Andronicus, Mark Fewell, Greg Welch, Nick Croft and Mark Allen at Sydney 2000 Olympic triathlon

Just to have experienced that, to have stood on an Olympic playing field, to have interviewed athletes, and to have yelled excitedly at hundreds of thousands of people as athletes you know charge around a course, would have been incredible.  But I was spoilt even further.  My media credentials got me into the venues for Olympic parties.  I also called the women’s and men’s cross country mountain bike race, alongside the great Peter Graves.  I had first interviewed Cadel Evans (now defending his Tour de France title) when he was 16 at the Australian MTB Championships where I was the Media Director, and I got to call him across the line in 7th place (as well as the gorgeous Italian Paola Pezzo who was the women’s victor).   To have the view of these incredibly exciting and dangerous races was sheer joy.

Sydney Olympic Games mountain bike commentators

There are other advantages to such work, that often people do not admit to, for fear perhaps of it never happening again, but the access you get as a key member of media/press staff is incredible.  At the time I was shocked at how good it was, and looking back I wish that I had documented it better (no Canon G12s around then!).  Wandering into the finals of basketball, checking out swimming, even squeezing into gymnastics.  Wherever there was a press area, or spare seats, I could go.  The only place that was impossible to get into was the beach volleyball on Bondi beach – that small arena was the most sought after, party atmosphere, of the whole games, probably largely because of the strict rules around how small the women’s bikini bottoms had to be (true!).  The best moments of utilizing my access was at track and field.  I was there when Aussie Kathy Freeman won the 400m gold, the entire stadium of 80,000 lighting up like fireflies on crack as everyone took photos.  I wasn’t just there – I was SO there that I could have reached out and touched her, as the our media area was right on the blue finish line and only a low fence separated us from the athletes (surprisingly it was often mostly empty as the photographers had their own area where they fought for clear space).  I was meters away when the later disgraced, but magnificent specimen of an athlete, Marion Jones dominated to take gold (though the record books have been stripped clean of her 3 gold, 2 bronze medals from those games).  And I watched one of the greatest celebratory performances of the Olympics after the USA’s John Drummond, Maurice Green, Bernard Williams III and Brian Lewis won the men’s 4 x 100m relay.  Just the memory alone takes me back 12 years, makes me proud and grateful, and sure as hell makes me wish it will happen again.

Postscript: Simon races in his 4th Olympics in London.   What a journey!



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2 Comments + Add Comment

  • Love this! So cool that you got that opportunity!

  • Thank you Lisa. Just trying to keep up with your world experiences!

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