When Sydney Ruled the World

I’ve been watching a lot of the Olympic coverage from Beijing this week. To be honest I’m not sure what to make of it all. So far the Games themselves have been good; the events have been much closer than in recent years and Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt have been outstanding. It’s a moment of great national pride for China and seeing their citizens happy and excited before the opening ceremony is something I’ll remember, even if some of it felt forced.

Yet I still feel uncomfortable about it. I was opposed to China hosting the Games when it was announced; I felt awarding the Games to China with its human rights record sent the wrong message. 7 years on I still feel the same way and there have been few signs of change, despite China’s assurances. What surprises me, though, is that many of the stadiums seem half-empty. Perhaps that’s the ticket prices or the security, I’m not sure, but with such excitement about the Games empty seats are the last thing I expected.

The security in particular bothers me and it just doesn’t feel like the Olympic Games… but perhaps I’m being unfair. I still remember the Sydney Games so well and it’s not a fair comparison. Sydney’s were the last innocent Games, before 9/11. The security in China is harsh but it’s a different world now. With the exception of allowing protests I’m not sure Sydney would be all that different if we were hosting the Games in 2008, not after APEC.

But the Games themselves have been excellent and they’ve brought back a lot of memories from Sydney. What I remember best about the Sydney Games is the feeling that surrounded them. The Games felt like our moment to shine, to show what hosting a truly global event meant to us. The torch relay was an example of that. It passed through many small countries first and when it finally reached Sydney, it was amazing! It passed right outside our street; the roads were five deep with people cheering and waving flags. It was an amazing moment and something I’ll always cherish.

When I think back to the Sydney Games it’s really a few moments I remember best; they went by so quickly that everything else is something of a blur. Like the opening ceremony. I remember a lot of dancing and horses and Cathy Freeman lit the cauldron at the end, which was spectacular, but if you asked me what it was about, I couldn’t say. I remember it was quite a strange feeling, though, watching the Games begin. We’d spent seven years waiting for them and watching them begin felt more like a dream than reality.

The Games were wonderful and I had my sixteenth birthday during them. We had pavlova and watched Susie O’Neill win a silver medal. Not a bad day at all! The moment we all remember is when Cathy Freeman won gold in the 400 m. Everyone was cheering for her and when she won, it was like a moment of healing. After all our history with indigenous Australians, Cathy helped to bring us together and when she carried both the Australian and Aboriginal flags, it was a wonderful moment. Earlier this year our PM gave the first apology to indigenous Australians; it would not have happened without Cathy Freeman.

There are other moments I remember fondly too but what really sticks in my mind is Eric Moussambani’s race. Eric came from Equatorial Guinea; he had never even seen an Olympic-sized pool before and could barely swim. But just as the race was about to begin, his competitors were disqualified and Eric was left to swim the whole race by himself! He was cheered on by 17,000 people and was given a bigger cheer at the end than any of the medallists. If that’s not what the Olympics are all about, what is?

Seeing Michael Johnson defend the 400 m and watching Kieren Perkins in his last race were also highlights. But finally the Games came to an end and it was a bittersweet feeling. We felt very proud but we had spent so long preparing for the Games and they had become such an industry (creating jobs, stimulating the economy) that it was strange to think they were over. But it was a great celebration as well. When Samaranch said that the Games were the “best ever”, it felt like this huge validation; like it had all been worth it in the end.

Looking back now I think we had this idea that the Olympics were going to change how we were perceived overseas, that they’d show the “real” Australia people never saw. But hosting the Games actually changed very little; they didn’t even make a profit, they were so expensive to run. What they did instead was to give us a new confidence. For two weeks the world had seen how proud we were of our country and the legacy of the Games is not that they were successful but that they helped to pave the way for the Australia we want to become. That’s something you can’t put a price on.

So I think I understand what the Chinese people must be feeling right now. The Games are almost over and it must be a proud moment for them, but also a sad one as it’s coming to an end. So far the Games have been good and they should be proud of that… but I still can’t help but feel that it’s come at a cost. I mean, just yesterday I read about a story where two women in their late 70s were sentenced to “re-education through labor” for seeking permission to protest in the zones China had set up for the Games. How are two elderly women a threat to the Chinese authorities?

While I don’t believe the Games are the right place to make a protest and that should be respected, I think the IOC’s silence on this is remarkable and that’s what I’m getting at. It awarded the Games to China with assurances from the authorities that they would improve human rights and that simply has not happened. The IOC’s silence is emboldening them. If the IOC goes on to name these the best games ever as is customary, it’ll be a farce.

Maybe I’m in the minority; maybe the Olympics are sacrosanct. But I think some things are more important than sport. What I want to take away from these Games are memories of a stunning opening ceremony; of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, Rafael Nadal and Leisel Jones; of the best athletes coming together in unity… instead what I will remember is an Olympics overshadowed by issues far greater than sport. I find that very sad.

I wonder what you think about all this? I’d be interested to find out.

Update: Just saw the closing ceremony. Jacques Rogge called the Games “truly exceptional”. I suppose they were. But they’ll still be remembered for different reasons than the athletes on display, whether the IOC admits it or not. At least seeing Jimmy Page was fun.

Old Favourites

I didn’t realise it had been a week since I’d posted. Ever since I wrote my letter to Clare I’ve been a little distracted but I’m feeling better now; the emotion that it brought up is starting to settle down and I’m feeling more like myself again.

I’m working on a couple of new posts but for now I thought I’d post some of my favourite songs… some old gems a few people might have forgotten about. I enjoy new music (love Coldplay) but I’ve found myself listening to a lot of old favourites recently. I love the period leading up to the late 70s, particularly for the songwriting… it shows that a good song is timeless.

I stumbled across these videos earlier and hadn’t seen most of them before. What’s amazing is they’re still good quality; most are well over 30 years old and the audio quality in particular is very good. They’re also a wonderful throwback to their time; the hair, the clothes… it’s like looking at a piece of history.

By far my favourite is this video of Jimi Hendrix performing Purple Haze in Atlanta. The video is incredible but not as good quality as the others, so if you don’t mind that, click over to have a look. I hope you enjoy the others. I wonder what some of your old favourites are?

My favourite Fleetwood Mac song is Rhiannon and this is a great version; Stevie Nicks is almost possessed. I also found a live performance of I’m So Afraid; the video quality isn’t as good but it’s well worth watching if you’re a Mac fan.

I think this is from 1970 although I’m not sure which concert. Both Sides Now is a lovely song; it has such beautiful, simple lyrics.

Layla would make any list of my favourite songs. This version is from the ARMS Charity Concert in 1983 and has Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck with Clapton.

I blame MQ for Stairway to Heaven; she’s been a Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Page fan for years, I inherited it. I love the song and this is a great live version.

And just to confirm, yes, I am 23. But I feel much older. 🙂

Dear Clare

I’ve been doing some soul-searching recently. A post by another blogger upset me and I’ve been trying to work out why. It brought up a lot of feelings about a friend who died when I was a child, feelings I thought I had moved past. I was wrong.

I think the reason it upset me so much is because I’m not religious. I respect people who are but I don’t believe in Heaven; I believe I will never see my friend again and being confronted by her death was very painful. It actually made me cry and I haven’t cried in a long time.

What I realised from it is that I’ve never really said goodbye to Clare; I was too young to understand and I’ve never had a chance to make peace with her death. I wrote this by hand last night and the pages are still wet. I thought I’d make it public, as a tribute to my friend… and as my way of saying goodbye.

* * * * * *

Dear Clare,

When we were young we were close friends. What I remember about that time often feels more like a dream than something real, it was so long ago. And yet other times it seems as clear as yesterday. I remember how you could be so serious and yet your smile could light up the room; how your hair used to fall across your face. And how you were a loyal friend. I was never able to tell you what that meant to me… and then you were taken away.

I didn’t understand what had happened to you for a long time; how do you explain death to a child? How do you explain that some of us are born to live long lives and others to die as their lives are just beginning? Now when I think of you it’s tinged with sadness, not just for your loss, but because I never had the chance to say goodbye.

There’s so much of you I don’t remember, so much I wish I could. Did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up? A doctor? A dancer? When I think of you now I find myself wondering if you knew you were about to die. Were you afraid as you fell? Was your last sound a scream or is the last thing we should remember of you your sweet laughter?

I think about you often and wonder what kind of person you might have become. You’d be out of university now; or would you have chosen another path? You might have been married, a mother; a writer, an artist… you could have been so many things but we will never know. The only thing I know is you would have been a wonderful person, because you already were.

In many ways all that I am today I owe to you. When I remember all your potential and who you could have been, it makes me want to be a better person. The lives we might have chosen might have been very different but as long as I hold a piece of you in my heart, I feel that perhaps your death was not so meaningless and that you share in my life. It’s not much to offer but it is all I have to give.

Your death has stayed with me all these years and I realise I must allow myself to say goodbye. But it’s the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I don’t believe in God or Heaven; to me you are gone forever and I must accept that I will never see you again. That I will never see you smile or hear you laugh again; never be able to tell you what you meant to me. While I hold on to your death I cannot celebrate your life. And so I must let you go.

Clare, you mean so much to me and you always will. You will be in my thoughts and my heart; in my dreams and my words. I will never forget you and the joy your brief life brought to mine. I am who I am because of you and I hope you would be proud of me, as I have always been proud of you.

Goodbye, my friend. I miss you. I love you. I’ll remember you. Forever.


The Mystery of the Montauk Monster

Montauk Monster
The Montauk Monster: Creature from the Deep or Something Else?

I had a different post planned today but when I saw this photo I couldn’t let it go. For the last few days I’ve had hundreds of strange searches leading to an old post and they all seem to be looking for a picture of a turtle without its shell. It made me wonder if there was a news story that might be creating interest… and surely enough I found this. I’m guessing it’s what they’re looking for.

Apparently it’s the remains of some kind of animal that washed up on Long Island. It’s been dubbed the Montauk Monster and there’s all kinds of speculation about what it is. Some think it’s the decomposing body of a raccoon or the remains of a turtle without its shell; others think it might be a marketing ploy or even a mutant which had escaped from a nearby government animal-disease research facility.

What strikes me about it, though, is how sad the image is. A poor animal dies and instead of feeling sorry for it there’s this kind of morbid fascination. But I guess that’s to be expected; we’re attracted to the strange and unknown and I’ll admit, I’m as interested as everyone else. Still, I’d like to think we could give it a little more respect.

Personally I don’t think there’s much to most of the theories. If it were a viral marketing ploy, it would have been claimed by now. And I’m sure it’s not a turtle; if a turtle lost its shell you’d be seeing muscle, not skin, and there are scruffs of hair around its neck, which means it’s a mammal, not a reptile. I’d guess it’s probably the remains of a dog, perhaps a bull terrier. The face looks similar and if you take decomposition and bloating into account, most of its body parts are in the right places.

It could be a shaved raccoon except the size makes me doubt it, but I could be wrong. It could also be a fake but either way it’s definitely not a turtle without its shell, as my searchers seem to think! For a while those searches were driving me crazy. I mean, it’s nice when an old post gets discovered, but it takes hours to write my other posts; that one took 5 minutes. Ain’t blogging grand?

Anyway, I thought I’d include a fun quiz to go with the mood. Apparently I’d be a zombie if I were a monster in real life… I can see that. I’m often sleepwalking through life, mainly because I don’t get much sleep! And I love Thriller.

I wonder what kind of monster you are? And any ideas on what this thing is? It’s starting to creep me out.:?


Update: Okay, I have now had 470 searches for “turtle without a shell” in three days! Seriously, guys, take a look at some of my other posts. This one’s a good one… and this one… and this one. 😉

Update: Newsday posted a new photo of it on August 1. Looks even more like a dog to me now. Poor thing.