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September 13, 2000
Three drug busts ahead of Games
Three positive drugs tests were announced on Wednesday just two days before the opening ceremony of the millennium Olympics, which IOC leaders hope will rid the Games of the stains of doping and sleaze.
In a major crackdown, three competitors were identified as drug cheats and barred from the Games: Taiwanese weightlifter Chen Po-pu, Bulgarian triple jumper Iva Prandzheva and Kazakhstan freestyle swimmer Yevgenia Yermakova.
As anticipation rose ahead of the opening ceremony, the Games started badly for the host nation. Both their men and women's teams were beaten, by Italy and Germany respectively, when the soccer tournament started on Wednesday.
Sydney organisers declared they were ready for the biggest sporting spectacle ever but there were warnings that threats from local demonstrators and international terrorists could spoil the party.
"We're ready. We've done everything that is necessary to host the 28 sports," said Bob Elphinston, an official of the Sydney organising committee.
But security sources revealed that demonstrators linked to violent anti-globalisation protests in Melbourne were targeting Friday's opening ceremony and police said Israel was top of a list of teams at risk from a terrorist attack.
Extra security for Israelis
Almost 30 years after the Munich Olympics massacre where 11 Israeli athletes were killed, New South Wales Police Commissioner Peter Ryan said extra security had been provided for the team.
Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh echoed the concerns and said there were fears that the world's most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, might be targeting his country next.
An Olympic security source told Reuters that officials were concerned about a threat to the Games opening ceremony after learning that a leader of violent protests in Melbourne had enlisted support for a demonstration.
"We're taking it fairly seriously," the source said.
Police Commissioner Ryan told Channel Nine television: "We will not tolerate this city being closed down. We will not tolerate any disruption to the Olympic Games."
The protesters also got short shrift from Games supporters who hijacked an anti-Olympics website to give them typically direct Australian advice, much of it laced with expletives.
"As far as I'm concerned, you're all a bunch of whingers with nothing better to do with your life. GET OVER IT!" read one message posted on the "protests and events" page of the Anti-Olympics Alliance.
The website has links to demonstrators who caused havoc at a World Economic Forum meeting in Melbourne this week. Forty-two police needed first aid and protesters said 300 of their supporters had been hurt in three days of clashes.
The web site says protests are being organised in collaboration with disadvantaged Aborigines who are also planning peaceful demonstrations to highlight their plight.
Many of Australia's indigenous people feel left out of the Olympics party as they struggle with problems of crime, drugs and poverty that have given them a life expectancy 20 years shorter than other Australians.
As if to confirm their disillusionment, Australia's boxing manager was criticised for using racially insensitive language about an Aborigine boxer, saying he was homesick because "if he can't sniff gum trees and have a look around he gets a bit lost".
Race of the Games
But Aborigines do have one big star to cheer for, 400 metres gold medal favourite Cathy Freeman, whose duel with defending champion Marie-Jose Perec of France is likely to be the race of the Games.
There is so much expectation riding on Freeman from all Australians that she is likely to be considered a failure if she loses to Perec by even a fraction of a second.
Freeman gave them more to cheer for on Wednesday when she also decided to run the 200 metres, which Perec will not contest.
The greatest athletics feat, meanwhile, is being attempted by U.S. sprinter Marion Jones who is going for an unprecedented five track and field golds.
Another highlight, especially for the host nation, will be the pool performance of sensational Sydney teenager Ian Thorpe.
Thorpe, 17, holds world records in the 200 and 400 metres freestyle and will be a member of the 4x100 and 4x200 relay squads. At odds of 20-1 on with bookmakers in the 400, he is the hottest individual favourite of the Sydney sports fest.
But there is much more riding on these Games than just a sporting spectacular. The Olympic movement itself will be on trial before a staggering global television audience of 3.7 billion people.
The IOC, steeped in scandal over graft related to Salt Lake City's successful bid for the 2002 Winter Games and labouring to shake off a reputation for commercial greed and being soft on drugs, will be looking for nothing less than the restoration of its name by a trouble-free Games focusing only on sport.
The IOC, eager to show it is serious about fighting drugs, cleared a new test for the stamina-boosting substance EPO in time for Sydney.
As Olympics arrivals moved towards their peak, 20 people had to be treated after being overcome by chemical fumes from a cleaning substance in the air conditioning at Sydney airport on Wednesday.
Whatever the problems, Sydney already looks like being a big financial success. Organisers said they were certain of hitting an Olympic record for ticket sales, even before the Games begin.
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