It was the time of our lives – and it was 20 years ago!

Arthur Stanley, General Manager Media & Communications, VenuesLive NSW

Cathy Freeman

Where were you 20 years ago, the night Cathy Freeman lit the Olympic flame to herald the start of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, ultimately described by IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch as “the best Olympic Games ever”?

For 12 members of our current VenuesLive NSW Permanent Team and 61 members of our Casual Team, it was a night at the Stadium they will never forget . . . working on the Opening Ceremony for the biggest event in the nation’s history.

I have long believed that our team’s Olympic pedigree partly explains the exceptional quality of personnel we have working in our business.

While SOCOG (Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games) were in charge of running the venue, the Stadium Australia Permanent and Casual staff members were seconded each day during the Games to operate the venue. Some of our people were then with SOCOG but most with the Stadium team.

Current Stadium Australia CEO Daryl Kerry was then the Venue Manager for Stadium Australia, working alongside the SOCOG-appointed Venue Manager. Current GM Sue Max was our Operations Manager. Tim Brady was on the Venue Operations Team. John Deane was Head of Catering Services at the Olympic Village, and Graeme Logan was earning his stripes as Head Curator, to name just a few who were intimately involved in the Olympics.

The Sydney 2000 Games were Sydney’s coming of age as a global city and it effectively set up the Stadium Australia team that ultimately became VenuesLive, undeniably a leader in the venue management industry to this day.

And so on 15 September this year, we get to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Sydney Games, and remember when we had the time of our lives.

Consider for a moment that two current Stadium Australia Ambassadors, rising football champions Ellie Carpenter and Jada Whyman, were born in the year of the Sydney 2000 Games. Our own Emma Rothfield in VenuesLive NSW Media & Communications had not even turned one, and so many of the outstanding young staff members across our business, from NSW to WA, were mere children.

Yet many of us can to this day call on a live stream of golden memories from the Sydney 2000 Olympics . . . so significant was this event in our lives, and in the lives of every Australian.

The Sydney 2000 Olympics were special due to the outpouring of national pride, the friendliness Australians showed toward their fellow citizens and overseas visitors, and the remarkable achievements of our young athletes. But also because they were so well organised, and nowhere better was this evident than at the Olympic Stadium.

The arrival of the Olympic Torch on our shores had generated a sense of mateship, warmth and goodwill and by the time the flame reached Sydney all Australians had been touched by the Olympic spirit.

For many of us, this was truly a special time in our lives. A time we will never forget.

Our Aussie team won 58 medals: 16 gold, 25 silver, and 17 bronze. By the time a squadron of jet fighters roared across Sydney from the Stadium to the Harbour to close the Games, our nation had staged an event so good it set a new benchmark for the Olympic movement.

People often ask me what was my personal highlight of the Games? Was it Cathy Freeman, the humble indigenous champion who lit the flame on that famous night in September and then carried the weight of the nation on her shoulders 10 days later as she powered to the line in the 400m?

That was special but not my highlight. For me, the highlight was not on the sporting arenas at all . . .  it was out and about in Sydney. Connecting with people from all over the world each day; the smiles and the sheer joy and celebration of life.

I watched most of the Games from the Sydney offices of The Olympian, a 40-page newspaper that was inserted into every News Limited paper around the nation.

I’d scurry out of the office each night after a 12-hour day and celebrate with friends and complete strangers like I’d known them my entire life, watching events unfold well into the night, and laughing at Roy & HG on the big screens. Some nights I would end up partying in the Heineken-sponsored Dutch team marquee at Darling Harbour, waking the next morning with a flashing Heineken bottle top badge by my bedside, before heading out to do it all again.

I have never witnessed a happier time in Sydney. Seeing Australians singing the national anthem on the bus and the train, and hearing the Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi chant everywhere from the Stadium to the functions and pubs around Sydney.

Channel Seven's 2000 Sydney Olympics TV Special Details | POPSUGAR Fitness Australia

We were strangers arm in arm. There was no aggro; there was no trouble. Discrimination of all kinds, racial, religious, political, and general nastiness . . . completely forgotten in those two magical weeks. This was pre-social media of course, and our mobile phones at that time didn’t even have cameras. Indeed, digital camera technology was primitive by today’s standards, as you will see by the quality of the images back then.

Our volunteers did the nation proud and were a highlight of the Games. They oozed Aussie charm. They came from all walks of life and were happy to open and shut doors, drive cars, sweep and clean from sun up to sundown. They all deserved gold but all were satisfied with a simple thank you and the odd Olympic pin.

The Australian Team was led into Stadium Australia through the Athletes’ Tunnel by basketballer Andrew Gaze. The sight of the athletes lined up on the arena for the Opening Ceremony and John Farnham and Olivia Newton-John singing as they made their way through the throng was as memorable as the Cathy moment, when she lit the Cauldron.

Oh, and I guess we should talk about that moment, when we all held our collective breath.

OK, so yes, the Olympic Cauldron did splutter and come to a grinding halt, putting the entire Opening Ceremony at risk. Cathy, resplendent in her white lycra but soaking wet from the “rain effect” of the Cauldron, waiting patiently and with the Olympic Torch held high above her head.

For 3 minutes 51 seconds to be exact – enough time for Daryl Kerry, Sue Max, Tim Brady and others to ride a rollercoaster of emotions as 110,000 people in the Stadium and a global TV audience of 2.1 billion wondered what the hell was going on.

“My first thought was just, ‘Oh f . . k it’s not moving’. I was thinking about all the work and effort that had been put in only for this to happen,” remembers Tim Brady.

But, hey, this is Australia, so no worries mate. Eventually the Cauldron kick-started like a battered old Victa lawn mower and up she went, high above the northern end of the Stadium. You beauty, the Games were on. We told you she’d be right!

And on the TV each night, Roy & HG brought us all of the action, while sitting alongside the national mascot they named Fatso The Fat Arsed Wombat. Yes, fair dinkum, you read that right.

Over in the Olympic Village, now known as the Sydney suburb of Newington, John Williamson sang songs at the Team barbeques in Boxing Kangaroo Square. We watched with pride as Thorpie sang along with Laurie Lawrence, who gave the great singer a wedgie just because he could.

Most of us had never heard of a blonde stunner called Tatiana Grigorieva until the night she lined up to win a Silver Medal for Australia in the pole vault. But she bettered that performance when we saw images of her on the big screen walking into the Village with a carton of VB over her shoulder.

Roy & HG were right. It was all a Dream, and one we hoped would never end.

Our VenuesLive Olympic heroes:

Permanent Staff pioneer members who worked at the Olympics and are still with us today:

  • Daryl Kerry, Steve Heytman, Graeme Logan, Sue Max, Leanne Bass, Simon Davies, Wendy Frizelle, Michael Herbert, Colin White.
  • Tim Brady and Rebecca Barry were also employed on a permanent basis during the Olympics, but they both left and returned some years later. And Becc has now gone again. Expect her back around 2040!
  • Executive Chef John Deane worked at the Olympic Village during the Games and joined the Stadium team later.

Casual Staff pioneer members who worked at the Olympics and are still with us today:

Tracey Blair, Rita Saliba, Maria Gioffre, Judith Cochrane, Lynette Trueman, Harry Biswas, Rita Bright, George Bright, Wayne Annetts, Jai Bonnefin, Nyin Cameron, Gary Fears, Dianne Sanders, Elizabeth Higgs, Peter Higgs, Carolina Irby, Ursula Jungo-Aegerter, Toly Kosiak, Richard Malta, Emanuele Monardo, Karen Aiston, Maurice Sheinbar, Debbi Stockhammer, John Wilson, Mirella Angelis, Jim Angelis, Roger Mackey, Michael Hogan, Ken Duong, Vicki Kennett, Maria Lagoudakis, Kerrie Welch, Lynette Chan, Carol Whittaker, Paul Hudson, Olivia Hadisaputra, Oleg Skrybin, Samantha Gillen, Irene Allan, George Biagioni, Michael Suminski, Susan McIntosh, Rose Chammas, Marcel Carre, Viv Etienne, Leanne Doherty, Susan Rewi, John Witter, Stephen Bartlett, Asher Wolfson, Cindy Bennett, Wayne Brown, Sulianti Boenyanto, Robyn Orchard, Rachael Harrold, Alicia Bell, Catherine Goodwin, Voula Hatzis, Sheila Lam, Kim Jenssen, Kate Baillie.