Sand WarriorsBondi Beach, Australia's most famous stretch of sand, is ready for its Olympics close-up. But some locals are still furious that the stadium built to host beach volleyball the Games' flesh-baring party sport has cut their beloved Bondi in half. After attempts to halt construction proved unsuccessful, activists have come up with a plan that calls for 1,000 people, armed with giant mirrors, to disrupt telecasts by flashing sunlight at television crews and into camera lenses. "We want the Olympic movement to reflect on its cultural imperialism," says Bondi councilor Dominic Wykanak. Unfortunately, the combination of an unfavorable weather forecast and the stadium's 16-meter walls looks set to frustrate the saboteurs' ambitious plans.
Down to EarthMost Sydneysiders have little reason to visit the dull, middle-class suburb of Parramatta. Sure, there's a huge shopping mall. And a bowling alley. And some cheap Asian restaurants. But it ain't bright lights, big city.
Yet this is where you'll find the newest version of America's Dream Team, holed up in a "4.5-star," ordinary-looking hotel far from their traditional place at the center of the universe. The fanciest eating establishment around is a Pizza Hut (which means Seattle Supersonics forward Vin Baker opts to sweat over a hot barbecue on grill nights). The team practices in a local recreation center, where they politely dodge the gray-haired ladies who come in for a spot of exercise.
There are no worldwide icons on this, the third U.S. team to be dominated by professional players. No Jordans, no Magics. Team members, players like Alonzo Mourning, Steve Smith and Jason Kidd, are top NBA players who have come to the Olympics because they thought it might just be fun and meaningful. None of these players is going to threaten to choose a Nike swoosh over the U.S. Olympic uniform as Jordan and some of his mates nearly did. "This team is doing what Olympic athletes do," says team spokesman and co-captain Craig Miller. "They're going to visit the Olympic Village, attend the opening ceremonies, stand in line."
NBA players standing and waiting for something besides the ball? As impressive as the squad's fearsome talents is what it lacks: the bratty attitude of previous teams. Sure, the Americans threw some elbows and talked some trash in beating the Australians in a pre-Olympic game, but the Aussies gave back as good as they got. "These are grown men," says Miller, the only leftover from the original 1992 Dream Team. "They have been playing basketball all their lives. They know how to control tempers."
The swagger, however, may be just on hold: the Australian papers are already gearing up for the rumored gold-medal celebration party, which will be stocked with recruits from at least three modeling agencies. The bash is to be held at the Cave, a hot nightclub in a Sydney neighborhood called "Star City" a place that sounds more like home.
CinderellasOf the 200 countries that have sent athletes to Sydney, several could only produce the smallest of teams. Sri Lanka, Bosnia and Oman have only one representative each, while Somalia is fielding two.
In a country riven by civil war since 1991, lacking a government until elections were held two weeks ago, the Somali Olympic Committee has struggled to get even those two athletes to the Games. "We are a poor country," says SOC president Farah Addo, with great understatement. The IOC, which routinely offers assistance to smaller countries, granted the team $22,000. That covered the cost of travel, insurance and equipment. "But what about the three years preparing them, buying all the equipment, feeding them, keeping them in training?" Addo says. None of the major sporting goods companies has offered any assistance. "If you write to them, they say: 'Who do you expect to get a medal?'" complains coach Ibrahim Omar.
Before the team left Mogadishu, the country's new president, Sadiqassim Salad Hassan, told Addo, "I'm just elected. I have nothing, I can give you nothing but I wish you all the best." The Somalis, and all the other tiny teams, deserve at least that much.
Daddy's BoysFather usually knows best in tradition-bound Japan, especially if he's a gold-medal Olympian. But Naoya Tsukahara and Akihiro Kasamatsu sons of two of Japan's most decorated gymnasts are ready to prove they know a little something, too. "We can compete on our own terms," says the younger Tsukahara, who stars on Japan's Sydney squad along with Kasamatsu junior. "This is a new era."
When the elder Tsukahara and Kasamatsu were competing, Japan was a gymnastics powerhouse that captured the team Olympic gold at each of the Games from 1960 to '76. The pair racked up more than a dozen medals between them. Naoya and Akihiro are competing on a less formidable team that lags behind the dominant Russians and Chinese. Still, Japan's fortunes may finally be changing. At the World Championships in Tianjin, China last year, 23-year-old Tsukahara nabbed the silver in the all-around event. With top Russian gymnast Nikolay Krukov recovering from a pulled Achilles tendon and China's Lu Yufu out of competition with a sore neck, Tsukahara has a legitimate shot at Sydney gold, especially in the all-around and floor events. Kasamatsu, 24, has been finessing his form since his fourth place all-around finish in Tianjin and hopes to medal in either the pommel horse or horizontal bars.
The pressure is on for the gymnast dynasts. "If they don't medal this time, Japan is going to have to completely rethink its gymnastics program," says Takeo Nakajima, who covers the sport for a Japanese TV network. "We're counting on them." So, no doubt, are their fathers, who hope these rising sons will raise Japan's gymnastics profile once more.
Side by SideTheir countries may technically still be at war, but the two Koreas seemed remarkably unified during the Opening Ceremony when they joined hands and marched together for the first time ever. In the spirit of reconciliation, South Korea even trimmed its marching delegation from 400-plus to 90 to avoid overwhelming the smaller North Korean troupe. There was just one problem: Pyongyang had given an inflated estimate of its Olympic squad and had to fly in last-minute participants to bring its delegation up to 90. "The cost of getting them here was worth it," says North Korean delegation member Mun Si Song. "We had to show we were equal to South Korea."
Full HouseWhat happens when you offer athletes and their coaches free trips to Sydney? You quickly run out of space at the Olympic Village. To compensate for the high cost of getting Down Under, the organizers of the Sydney Games offered to pay air fares for all athletes and officials who planned to attend. A record number accepted. More than 11,100 athletes are participating in the Sydney Games, up from the 10,310 who showed up in Atlanta in 1996. But the Village was designed to house only 10,200 athletes, so officials had to scramble to add beds, doubling and tripling up people in rooms. But free travel is not the only reason for the growth of the Games. The International Olympic Committee can't resist adding new events to the already packed schedule. In Atlanta there were 273 medal events on the books, but in Sydney the number has grown to 300 (including such events as trampoline and modern pentathlon). The better part of that growth, though, reflects a commendable effort at involving more women in the Games. Twenty-one women's events including weight lifting, water polo and Taekwondo have been added for Sydney.
Written by Hannah Beech, Sally Donnelly, Barry Hillenbrand, Kate Noble, Susanna Schrobsdorff and Steve Waterson/Sydney