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September 11, 2000
Sydney says it's all systems goAndrew Browne
A jubilant Sydney on Sunday declared "We're Ready" after an Olympic dress rehearsal went off almost without a hitch.
Transport and security systems sailed through their first big test on Saturday night as 100,000 people packed Stadium Australia for a star-studded curtain raiser to next Friday's opening extravaganza.
"First Gold," declared the Sunday Telegraph, praising an "almost flawless" performance.
Memories of road and rail chaos that blighted the 1996 Atlanta Games have haunted Sydney's organisers.
And in an embarrassing flash-back, president of the International Olympic Committee Juan Antonio Samaranch was stranded outside his hotel on Saturday after a bus booked to take him to the main Olympic television centre failed to show up.
There was another anxious moment during the show at Homebush Bay when sparks from fireworks ignited a grass fire that sent smoke billowing into the sky.
Tourism officials said they were optimistic they would meet forecasts of an A$500 million ($285 million) spending spree from foreign visitors to the 17-day Games, the greatest sporting spectacle on earth.
But Sydney's hoteliers were dropping prices by up to 50 percent in a push to fill rooms left empty by late cancellations from overseas tour operators and sluggish domestic sales.
About 1.5 million of the eight million tickets for Olympic events were also still up for grabs, although organisers said they still expected to meet their budget target of sales totalling A$610 million.
There were reports that some scalpers had lost their shirts, having to unload tickets to less popular events at below face value.
Normally laid-back Australians have been fretting obsessively about what might go wrong at the Games, which will be watched by a global television audience of three billion.
Sydneysiders, as residents of the city are called, are rallying together to look after the 750,000 visitors expected over the next few days.
Close to 170,000 people will be on full-time Olympic duty from Monday, including an army of chefs, cleaners, maintenance crews and security personnel.
Some 40,000 volunteers in white hats and blue uniforms have been mobilised.
"We're Ready," the Sun Herald trumpeted in a front-page headline over a picture of the Australian women's soccer team -- The Matildas -- posing in dark glasses and jump suits atop the Sydney Harbour bridge.
Many Australians had their doubts last week when the train service to Homebush Bay collapsed after winds blew down overhead power cables along the single-track system.
The next day a train jumped the tracks, causing more chaos.
Out-of-town bus drivers with crumpled maps and worried expressions took athletes and journalists on rambling journeys from venue to venue. Some got hopelessly lost and turned up late -- or not at all.
A clearly rattled John Coates, president of the Australian Olympic Committee, sought to shock city authorities into action last Thursday by declaring the transport system "unacceptable".
Another 700 bus drivers were thrown into the fray on Saturday. Coates reported "teething problems" among the fresh recruits, but otherwise the transport system appeared to be humming along smoothly.
Saturday's grass fires were shrugged off by the deputy head of the Australian Olympic Committee, Michael Wenden, as a "minor side effect".
He added: "I'm quite sure they would have emergency measures in place should that occur in the opening ceremony."
Other organisers said they would review safety procedures for fireworks displays.
Crowds who flocked to the stadium, where the Olympic torch will be lit, were asked to keep secret the details of the show, which features stars such as Olivia Newton John and Kylie Minogue, and the rock bands INX and Men at Work.
At a glittering dinner on Saturday, Prime Minister John Howard called the Olympics "a dream come true".
"What will be on display will be the openness, friendliness, the tolerance, the warmth and the decency of Australian people," he said.
Even the weather was expected to smile on Sydney: forecasts were for mostly blue skies for the opening of the Games.
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