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September 13, 2000
Sydney on course for bumper OlympicsBarry Moody
Australia stayed on course for a bumper Olympics on Tuesday with predictions of the biggest ever television audience and a tourist bonanza, but a sober reminder of darker times came from Israel.
Triumphant Olympic officials said almost every person on the planet with access to a television would watch the Sydney Games at some time over the next month -- a whopping 3.7 billion people out of the potential 3.9 billion.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) marketing commission chief Dick Pound said the projected figure was an increase of 700 million over the Atlanta Games in 1996.
Australia also looked like breaking all records in Olympic tourism. IOC marketing director Michael Payne said it was the first host nation to exploit fully the potential of the Games.
The Australian Tourist Commission said it had transformed the country's image away from stereotypical koalas and kangaroos and the Games were forecast to attract more than 22 million tourists, worth $51 billion, over the next four years.
But amidst all the euphoria, Israelis were reminded of the biggest stain on the name of the Olympics -- the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes seized by Palestinian guerrillas at the Munich Games in 1972.
Israeli television showed for the first time an Oscar-winning film reliving the tragedy.
The 90-minute film, "One Day in September", which won this year's Academy Award Oscar for Best Documentary, uses television footage from the time to depict the drama after the athletes were captured by members of the Black September group in the Olympic village.
The film's criticism of the IOC, which let the Games go on after the athletes were taken hostage, sounded a jarring note before the Sydney Olympics and highlighted the need for tight security.
There appear to be no major fears of violence in Sydney and security is discreet but the Munich disaster is a permanent nightmare in the minds of organisers every time the Games are held.
Olympics officials are hopeful that the 17-day summer sporting extravaganza will pass off peacefully after Aboriginal leaders seeking greater justice from white Australia called for protests to remain non-violent.
China's Olympic team, which hopes for a haul of 20 gold medals despite being depleted by "suspicious" blood tests, arrived on Tuesday but immediately lost another potential winner when top gymnast Lu Yufu pulled out after hurting his neck in training.
The Chinese were among the last group of major athletes to reach Sydney for the Games opening on Friday.
Monks, models and flag-waving children thronged Sydney airport to greet the squad, already badly in need of a morale boost after two star weightlifters had joined a growing list of no-shows at the last minute because of injury.
Last week China dramatically axed 40 athletes and coaches, including six of seven members of the "Ma Family Army" of female long-distance runners led by disgraced track coach Ma Junren.
Ma himself was bumped from the team.
Australian media have speculated that China sacrificed a number of medal prospects to avoid a drugs scandal in Sydney that could derail its bid to host the 2008 Olympics.
Despite the generally smooth build-up to the millennium Games, transport problems continued to dog the organisers.
In the latest of a long catalogue of glitches that have included stranding Olympics chief Juan Antonio Samaranch, a vehicle carrying members of Britain's archery team crashed in the athletes' village.
Simon Needham suffered a grazed chin when the bus smashed its windscreen after colliding with another vehicle. The incident occurred, embarrassingly, as a leading official was defending the troubled transport system.
One of the biggest potential stars of the Games, U.S. sprinter Marion Jones, arrived in Melbourne to prepare for her bid to make history by clinching an unprecedented five golds in the 100 and 200 metres, the long jump and both relays.
Jones admitted to feeling nervous at the prospect.
"Definitely there were butterflies in my stomach looking out the window and seeing Australia," Jones told Reuters after flying from Los Angeles.
Another of the star names at these Games, Australian teen swimming sensation Ian Thorpe, tried to play down his billing despite the conviction of almost everybody else that the 400 metres freestyle final on Saturday will be little more than a time trial for him.
Even his opponents have virtually conceded the race to the 17-year-old, who also holds the 200 metres world record, and it is impossible to find anyone who does not think he will win a stack of medals at his first Olympics.
Australia's biggest sports bookmakers are prudently listing Thorpe at the prohibitive odds of 20-1 on, the shortest price of any athlete in any sport at the Games.
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