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September 12, 2000
G'day, world, welcome to the GamesPaul Majendie
G'day to the world.
With that typically exuberant greeting, Australia launches the first Olympics of the new millennium on Friday.
Almost everyone on the planet with a television will be tuned into the extravaganza -- a staggering 3.7 billion viewers are expected to watch the Games over the action-packed 17 days.
"It will be the most extraordinary ceremony ever to open the Olympic Games," said master of ceremonies Ric Birch, who launched the Atlanta and Barcelona Olympics with the same panache.
Sydney hosts an Olympics that will see North and South Korea marching under the same flag and East Timor's tiny team of four athletes set for one of the biggest cheers of the night. For sport at its best can act as a great political healer.
But the opening ceremony is pure show business, the perfect global platform for sports-mad Australia to show off its culture to the world in a 110,000-seat stadium that could fit four jumbo jets side by side under its soaring arches.
Birch has promised to spare the blushes of Australians who cringed with embarrassment at the end of the Atlanta Olympics when inflatable kangaroos on bicycles trundled into the stadium to herald the Sydney Games.
Eager to avoid koala bear and kangaroo stereotypes, he said: "You'll be blown away. You'll think what a crazy and fabulous country."
The pageant will have 12,700 performers and a 2,000-strong marching band.
With theme music swelling up from the film "Man From Snowy River", Crocodile Dundee star Paul Hogan will join a cast of 100 stockmen sweeping into the stadium for a stunning display of formation riding and a rousing chorus of "G'day".
The aboriginal culture of Australia's indigenous people who arrived 40,000 years before the white man will not be forgotten -- an Aborigine girl will appear to float onto the stage for a "Deep Sea Dreaming" sequence.
Olivia Newton-John, who set John Travolta's pulse racing back in the Seventies musical "Grease", is due to join fellow Australian star John Farnham for a "Dare to Dream" duet.
"I have sung for the Pope and President Bill Clinton...and now the Olympics," said the 52-year-old star. "This is by far the biggest thing I have ever done."
Tina Arena, starring in London in the musical "Notre Dame De Paris", will wrap up the extravaganza with her rendition of "The Flame".
Muhammad Ali, one of the best loved sportsmen of the 20th century, electrified the world in Atlanta as he shakily lent forward to light the Olympic flame.
Sydney could provide another emotional highlight with Australian Olympic heroine Betty Cuthbert, now wheelchair-bound with multiple sclerosis, the favourite to light the cauldron. Swimming legend Dawn Fraser is also hotly tipped.
Who gets the honour will be kept secret right up to the last minute.
"I am glad people thought it might be me," Cuthbert, a triple gold medal winner at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, told reporters.
Asked for her best guess on the most closely guarded secret of the Games, she cheekily replied: "Me."
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