Fast Times — and We Mean Fast — at Sydney High

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Silly me.

I had thought that returning to my hometown to cover the Olympics would be a lot like going to my high school reunion.

It's not.

It's like actually being back in high school.

For a start, everyone worships the athletes, aka the ones with the best bodies — that is, with the possible exception of the female weight lifters, and that scary New Zealand softball pitcher. Here at the games the athletes are an untouchable clique unto themselves, although when you actually manage to get close enough to talk to one of them, they turn out to be just as dull as they were in 11th grade.

Then there's the uniforms. At my school we wore a rather demure tunic and an ugly hat. Its singular advantage was that it looked equally unprepossessing on everyone. However, you could tell in which clique a person belonged by nuanced differences in their ensembles. A longer tunic meant you were a brain, loose socks meant you were a toughie. Here at the games all the well-meaning muddle-aged volunteers — the rough equivalent of school prefects — wear garish shirts and silly hats. As well as looking equally unprepossessing on everyone, including my rather rotund father, they too have nuances. It's all in the hardware. The more electronics a person is carrying, the more he or she knows. And a yellow hatband indicates seniority. In other words, they're only ones it's worth actually asking a question. (And, by the way, folks, this is the stuff only a real investigative reporter in Sydney can bring you.)

Then there's the spectators. These are all the decent kids at school whose names always completely escaped you.

Finally, there's the press corps: the same hard-nosed wiseacres that always cut up in class, except these days they're a little smellier. And just like in high school I find myself in this clique whether I want to be or not. It's sometimes hard not to get lost in the excitement of how spiffy the hometown looks and how well the local talent is doing and assess it all as a cool outsider. At the opening ceremonies, I waved my blinking bracelet around like a goofball until I realized I was one of about six people in the press box who had even bothered to take it out of the little yellow suitcase. The volunteer in charge of leading the cheers from the press section had a very grim job indeed.

Anyway, there's the bell. I'm off to recess.