Bill Kirby's Olympic Insider - Part 3

opening ceremony

The opening Ceremony.

It's about 1pm on the day of the Opening Ceremony in Sydney, and the mood of the village is entering high-energy status.
Remember that we are elite athletes, who have just spent the last (what feels like) 10 years training for the sport, at a high level, every day, and now we are tapered, full of energy, excitement and starting to get ready to march out in our home Olympics Opening Ceremony.

The girls in the team are spending time getting ready, trying their hardest to look glamorous, and do their hair and make-up. Most boys in the team are less concerned with the hair and make-up, and we are more concerned about who can take the funniest 'harry-high-pants' photos in our formal uniform whilst getting ready. Maturity is lacking for sure! There are so many photos that could not possibly be shared in public. We finally get ourselves sorted out and are feeling fairly chuffed at how good we all look together, even though Ochre is pretty much no-one's favourite colour, we somehow all seem to look good together.

By 4pm the mood of the village has reached hyperactive status. There are groups of athletes from all over the world taking photos of each other and their joy is palpable. The amazing thing about Opening and Closing ceremonies is, that it's pretty much the only time that a Nations team of athletes will get together. It's quite unique to have all these elite level athletes, in one place, at one time, and although you would think we would stick together in our sporting codes, but I found that we really mingled, and spent time getting to know other athletes from other sports, not just sticking with our 'own sporting kind'.

There's lots of waiting around, and as we are the host nation, we are the final ones to walk in. We are outside the stadium and can hear everything going on inside, each country being announced and the crowd's reaction. As we get closer to entering, we move into the tunnel that takes us from outside the stadium to inside the stadium, and it's a sea of bobbing heads in front of me. We are all jostling for position near the outside of the group - so we can get our heads on TV and wave to our families who are at home watching. I decide to move near Luc Longley the basketballer as I figure he's a good chance to get on telly, but seeing as he's so big, and I'm not blessed in the height department - I decide that's a stupid idea and move next to the guy who has spray painted his hair green and gold instead. Smart move!

The next part feels like it goes so quickly. We enter the stadium and are announced - and the roar of the crowd is deafening - it was completely mind-blowing and totally amazing. As we walk we are taking photos, joking, laughing and generally feeling like the luckiest people alive. I'm also feeling really sad for the athletes who have to miss this moment as they are competing tomorrow - missing this would be gut wrenching, even though we promised to take lots of phots for them, nothing can replace the feeling of being here.

We move into the middle of the stadium to prepare for the Olympic flag to be raised and the flame to be lit. It goes quiet in the stadium.
It's at this point that I'm struck by the most amazing sense of the weight lifting off my shoulders. I've made it. My dream has been realised. I can finally call myself an Olympian. No-one can ever take that away from me, and whatever happens in the race now, happens. It's an amazing feeling. I'm sure for other athletes, the ceremony only added to the weight of expectation, but for me it was the opposite, I felt like an Olympian! And free to compete to the best of my ability.

We didn't know who was lighting the flame, it was a well-kept secret - when we saw Cathy Freeman, the athletes were SO proud. She's one of us, a current athlete, such a humble and well-liked person, respected and indigenous! We all thought it was a spectacular choice and that moment was spine tingling.
The nigh ends late, and we are all back at the village trying to wind down from this once in a lifetime experience, Olympics, on home soil, in an amazing team. As we head off to bed and try and get some shut-eye, I'm now eagerly anticipating the start of racing, the chance to step on pool-deck and represent my country and do the best job I can, after all the years of dedication and sacrifice.

Next up - Race day!

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