SYDNEY — WHEN Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), visited Sydney earlier this month, his limo made the 25-minute trip from downtown to the Olympic site in 17 minutes.
With a little phone call from the driver to the traffic control center, stoplights were magically synchronized. That's the Sydney Olympics 2000 bid for you: Remove every conceivable obstacle.
Sydney is trying to convince the IOC that despite its location, it has what it takes: It's beautiful, modern, surrounded by a sparkling harbor graced with both the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge. It's stable, safe, friendly, and multicultural.
Sports-mad Australia has sent athletes to every Games since 1896. It has bid three times for the Games: Melbourne won in 1956; Brisbane ('92) and Melbourne (again, for '96), did not. Polls show 90 percent of the people support the bid.
Like athletes who review game films in order to improve, Sydney officials are learning from past Olympics. For example, they persuaded local hotel owners to sign a legally-binding contract that would cap room rates for the duration of the Games, to avoid the price-gouging that occurred in Barcelona, Spain.
The heart of Sydney's "Share the Spirit" plan is Sydney Olympic Park, a giant development at Homebush Bay, 8-1/2 miles from the city center. It combines the A$300 million (US$208 million) athletic and aquatic facilities with an Olympic village.
Ground has already been broken on the facilities, which will be built whether or not Sydney gets the 2000 Games. Sydney Olympic Park will include an 80,000-seat stadium with state-of-the art security cameras, a 15,000-seat indoor arena, tennis center, baseball center, velodrome, and equestrian center.
THE Greenpeace organization supports the plan's environmental guidelines, which cover everything from construction to catering. The group even participated in the Olympic Village's design, which will use solar power, ozone-friendly refrigerators, water recycling, and public transportation. Some buildings are designed not to require air conditioning.
To win, a city needs a strong plan and a focus, and Sydney is focusing on athletes' needs. For the first time in Olympic history, all 10,000 athletes and 5,000 officials would be housed in one village. The Olympic Park will hold 14 of the 25 sports; more than 60 percent of the athletes could walk to their events.
Rod McGeoch, the tall, debonair chief executive of Sydney's bid, says they aim to appeal to "old athletes" on the IOC - the ones who remember traveling hours from Olympic villages to train or compete.
"There's an IOC member in Finland who's been to six Olympic Games, who's never able to stay in an Olympic village where all his friends were because he was a yachtsman," McGeoch says. "That's why we call it `the athletes' Games.' "
The proposed timing (Sept. 16-Oct. 1) is designed to fit with TV schedules, athletes' training, and comfort level. "More than 120 years of meteorological data tell us that September is consistently the driest month," says Hamish Fraser, spokesman for the Sydney bid.
But if the bid organizers have solved the "tyranny of distance" between the athletes and their venues, there's still the matter of getting people to Sydney. It's a 13-hour flight from Los Angeles, 9 or 10 hours from Tokyo, and 24 from London. So the Organizing Committee will pay travel expenses for the athletes, officials, and Olympic freight, to the tune of $30 million.
Bid officials expect to at least break even on the Games, which are budgeted at A$1.697 billion (US$1.175 billion). Revenue is estimated at A$1.7 billion, most of it from TV broadcasting rights. Several columnists here question whether US television networks will offer that kind of money, especially after NBC lost $100 million covering the Barcelona Games last year.
The IOC will announce its decision in September. Sydney's bid is considered strong. The other cities in the running are Beijing (considered Sydney's main contender; see accompanying story, right); Manchester, England; Istanbul; Berlin; and Brasilia.