2000 Olympics: Cathy Freeman’s golden moment
Host: Sydney, Australia
Medal table winner: United States of America
Held between September 15th and October 1st, the 2000 games saw the Olympics return to Australia for the first time in 44 years. The country’s most famous city trumped Manchester and Beijing in the bidding process to recreate the honour Melbourne had in 1956. It saw the Olympics sweep into its third millennium and did so in style with 10,651 athletes on the roster.
The United States topped the medal table for the second consecutive Olympiad with 37 gold medals to their name. Australia came an impressive fourth as hosts behind the usual suspects of Russia and China. After the shame of 1996, the UK made a vast improvement on their Atlanta tally with a tenth place finish. Meanwhile, Afghanistan were barred from the games with the Taliban regime banning sports and prosecuting women.
The Sydney games are widely regarded as one of the greatest of all time and the first real challenger to the world record saturated 1968 tournament. The IOC President of the time, Juan Antonio Samaranch, addressed Australia by saying: “I am proud and happy to proclaim that you have presented to the world the best Olympic Games ever.”
Redgrave makes it five
There are very few Olympians that can lay claim to five gold medals, never mind across five separate Olympiad. Steve Redgrave, however, is one man who can boast this achievement and wrapped it up in Sydney. Despite telling the press after Atlanta: “Anybody who sees me in a boat has my permission to shoot me,” he decided to tackle one more tournament.
It proved the fairytale finish for one of the greatest Olympic careers. Redgrave made sure his extra four years of toil weren’t in vein as the UK edged out Italy in the Coxless Four. Alongside James Cracknell, Tim Foster and trusty partner Matthew Pinsent, the then 38-year-old bagged the gold. After Sydney however, he kept to his word and retired from Olympic rowing.
Unfortunately, the 2000 games did have its fair share of controversy, albeit only being revealed years afterwards. The bulk of cheats could be found in the US contingent. Firstly, Lance Armstrong was stripped of his time trial bronze medal as well as his seven Tour de France titles in 2013. Secondly, Antonio Pettigrew admitted to doping in 2008 and the American 4x400m team was disqualified as a result.
The overwhelming case, though, proved Marion Jones. The Los Angeles-born sprinter had risen to international fame with gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4x400m as well as silver in the long jump and bronze in the 4x100m. By 2007 however, it was revealed that she had in fact been taking banned steroids at the time. The revelation saw Jones lose her five medals and gain a six-month prison sentence.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2008, Jones argued that she still would have won the golds in Australia without the drugs. Nonetheless, it proves a stain on the Olympics and athletics that can only truly be rivaled by Ben Johnson’s 1988 disgrace.
The most beautiful victory
The Olympics often throw up a hearty dose of goose bump inducing and spine tingling moments. Few, in the games’ 120-year history, can rival that of Australia’s Cathy Freeman on home turf in 2000. Having been made the face of the games and handed the responsibility of lighting the Olympic flame, Freeman was certainly under pressure.
Consequently, going into the 400m final, the nation expected. Settling into the blocks in her odd, but nonetheless trademark full-body suit, Freeman was ready to make history. From the crack of the starting gun to her crossing the line, the entire stadium pushed the Aboriginal sprinter onto the gold. Jamaica’s Lorraine Graham kicked and kicked, but couldn’t catch Cathy.
The partisan atmosphere in the stadium is perhaps only comparable to that of Super Saturday in 2012. With the victory confirmed and the Australian as well as Aboriginal flag in Freeman’s hand, Aussie pride spiked. Sport has seldom produced such a moving and tear jerking moment. Olympic gold- in more ways than one.
‘Eric the Eel’ inspires
Another heartwarming moment rooting from the 2000 games proved the exploits of Equatorial Guiana’s Eric Moussambani. Despite having only learnt to swim eight months previously in a 20m hotel pool, ‘Eric the Eel’ made his way to Sydney as his country’s sole swimming representative. The novice swiftly found himself in the first heat of the 100m freestyle.
In an incredible twist however, Moussambani found himself as the only competitor with his two rivals being disqualified for false starts. As a result, the fans’ favourite swam to victory, albeit his last 50m proving a blatant struggle. The time may have been an entire minute (yes, you read that right) off the world record and a lifeguard needed to be poised, but Moussambani won the hearts of the 17,000 strong crowd and the world.
Britain’s Jonathan Edwards dispelled the demons of 1996 as he finally secured Olympic gold in the triple jump. A season’s best jump of 17.71 metres saw the Team GB legend add Olympic victory to his still standing world record.
The men’s 100m saw the dawn of a new age as the United States finally found Carl Lewis’ successor. Maurice Greene screamed to victory in an incredible 9.87 seconds to become the world’s fastest man. The Kansas-born bullet remains the 60m world record holder also.
Team GB were on a mission to revive their Olympic displays and Denise Lewis proved integral to this. Bettering her Atlanta showing with gold, Lewis won the heptathlon for the UK with a tally of 6,584 points. Jessica Ennis-Hill, who?
YJA Senior Correspondent