It’s hard to recall a more perfect moment in modern Australian history than Cathy Freeman lighting the torch to kick off the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
The Games itself occupies a very special place in our cultural lore. A coming together of competitors, volunteers, organisers, spectators, and broadcasters from across the country, united under one banner. For 17 glorious days Australia put on a show for the rest of the world; almost inarguably the most entertaining, enthralling, energetic, and otherwise perfect Olympics of the modern era.
But Freeman lighting the torch, the singular focus of the globe (much like she would be again 11 days later running the 400m final) stands large as a watershed moment. That moment, from September 15th, 2000, is officially 20 years old as of this evening.
The entire Opening Ceremony up until that point was a spectacle unto itself, but the torch relay writ large was something else entirely.
Already enthralling the entire nation well before its arrival at Stadium Australia – thanks largely to a canny travel path that put it within an hour’s drive of 85% of all Australian homes – the entry of the flame to Olympic proceedings in 2000 was about as perfectly conceived an executed as you could’ve possibly imagined.
Celebrating 100 years of women’s participation at the Olympic Games, the flame’s journey across the stadium was steered by some of Australia’s most celebrated female Olympic athletes.
From Raelene Boyle, steering a wheelchair-bound Betty Cuthbert through the first leg of proceedings. Dawn Fraser, in a symbolic moment welcoming her back into the Olympic fold, then handed the torch to the great Shirley Strickland, who in turn passed it on to Shane Gould and Debbie Flintoff-King.
But it was Cathy Freeman who was given the honour of lighting the torch itself.
Submerged in a pool beneath a cascading waterfall, Freeman’s lighting of the torch stands as the cornerstone moment for scores of Australians who sat dazzled by the games – either in the stands or at home on TV.
Not even the infamous hydraulics malfunction – which stalled the rising cauldron circle for a truly agonising 4 full minutes – could put a damper on what was otherwise a most perfect moment.
It’s available to watch in full. As is the entire Opening Ceremony. But the torch surpasses all.
Hard to think of a more perfect moment, really. Pure and good. So pure, and so, so good.
How bloody good was Sydney 2000.Image: Getty Images / Gunnar Berning