Best ever Games bows out in style
Fears of chaos at Sydney airport proved groundless on Monday as the world's top athletes headed smoothly home after what was hailed as the best Olympics ever.
In what was turning into the Reluctant Escape from Sydney rather than a mass exodus, thousands of passengers moved with little delay on to international and domestic flights.
Airline staff said the busiest day ever at the airport was made easier by hundreds of athletes and tourists making last minute changes to stay longer in the Land Down Under.
"We'd been warned that everyone would want to escape as soon as the Games ended," an Ansett Airlines official told Reuters. "Instead people are wangling ways to stay longer."
Airport spokesman Eric Aubert agreed.
"We believe some Olympic visitors who had booked on flights for today or tomorrow are postponing those flights and are staying to do a bit of tourism," he said.
Even so, crowds were so big that the airport pleaded with the public not to go to meet or farewell travellers at the airport.
Up to 100,000 passengers are expected to flow through both the domestic and international terminals during Monday, with the Olympics crush compounded by the end of school vacations and a public holiday.
The international terminal alone will cope with an estimated 44,000 passengers and more than 200 flights.
If International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch was able to proclaim the Sydney Olympics the best ever, city authorities were also able to declare them the most lawful.
After Sydney's biggest ever party, when 1.5 million people surged on to streets to celebrate Sunday's closing day, police reported a total of just four arrests and about a dozen injuries, none of them life threatening.
"The overwhelming majority of people who came to farewell the Games enjoyed a great night's entertainment and were well behaved," police spokesman Dick Adams said.
Sydney's famed Harbour Bridge, one of Australia's most potent icons, was the centrepiece of a A$3 million ($1.7 million) firework display which put in the shade the last New Year celebrations heralding the start of the new millennium.
It was a breathtaking climax for a city that has revelled in the most successful Olympics ever staged.
"I am proud and happy to proclaim that you have presented to the world the best Olympic Games ever", declared Samaranch, presiding over his last Games in 20 years at the helm.
Sydney's success helped redeem the tarnished image of an IOC still smarting from the corruption exposed in the bidding for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.
The medals table showed the United States on top with 39 golds, ahead of Russia with 32, China with 28 and hosts Australia on 16.
Australian newspapers were effusive in proclaiming the Games a success.
"Our destination -- our destiny -- is a place of prosperity and peace which is an example to the world," the Sydney Daily Telegraph said in an editorial. "That is our Olympic legacy."
IOC Marketing Director Michael Payne said there would be a 10-year-long boost to the Australian economy from the success of the Games.
"Technologically, Australia has pulled it off here," Payne told the Australian Financial Review. "There will be a great showcasing of having pulled off flawlessly the world's greatest event."
Mail your comments