Volunteers, Staff, Officials and Team Members Remember Sydney 2000
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games canoe sprint regatta at Sydney International Regatta Centre (27 September – 1 October 2000) and we continue our #MySydney2000 memories series with reflections of our amazing Sydney 2000 staff and volunteers, who were a major part of making Sydney the ‘best Games ever’. We also look back at some spectator-turned-Olympian memories.
Sydney 2000 as much as any other event would have not been possible without the thousands of volunteers as well as staff who worked tirelessly to ensure the best experience for athletes and spectators alike. Working and volunteering at the Games was a dream come true for most of them as well as a once in a lifetime experience.
“It was a dream job that I never expected would come my way and I was absolutely honoured to lead the Regatta Team as Venue Manager during the Olympics,” Donna Jones (nee Donna Blay at the time) says about her experience working for the Sydney Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (SOCOG).
Jones started her Sydney 2000 journey at SOCOG in 1997 and was the Competition Manager Canoe/Kayak (across canoe slalom and canoe sprint) before taking on the role of SOCOG Venue Manager for the Regatta Centre over the last 12 months of the Games, while John Felton became Competition Manager Slalom and Graham Halford Competition Manager sprint.
“We were very lucky to have a great bunch of volunteers and an incredible venue team. So many great life long memories.”
“One that stands out is the last day of the Olympics. We woke up to a forecast of windy weather. We had spent significant time planning for this scenario and had agreed with the International Canoe Federation that given the historical weather patterns – if there was wind in the morning it would only get stronger throughout the day – that racing would go ahead immediately as scheduled. But in the moment, the ICF called a delay to competition, which meant racing did not finish until much later in the afternoon – after boats were sinking mid race,” Jones recalls.
“It was not a great way to end the competition. Celebrations with the venue team were cut short due to the timing of the Closing Ceremony. I was fortunate enough to have a ticket for the Closing Ceremony but as we finished so late it was looking like I would miss it – until the police on venue said they would kindly escort me down the M4 to the Olympic Stadium. I made it just in time for the start and will be forever grateful to those kind policemen. I am sure they know who they are,” Jones laughed.
On the Australian Team side, Christine Duff was an essential member of the team and made sure our paddlers were well looked after.
The sprint and slalom teams, were housed in their own mini village at the UWS Kingswood campus just down the road from the regatta centre in Penrith along with rowing, which was managed by Christine Duff, assisted by Atlanta 1996 Olympic rowing champion Megan Still.
“The 2000 sprint team was only finalised until just days before the Games after appeals to CAS, but the team pulled together and embraced the home games like no other,” Christine Duff recollects.
“The atmosphere in and around Penrith was electric. As the torch came through Jamieson Park we took the early arriving team members to watch it weave its way through the throngs of people who crammed the area for a glimpse of the torch and the athletes were like celebrities. Penrith was heavily decked in Olympic bunting for the occasion and the happiness among people was palpable – something that was maintained throughout the Games.”
Besides being busy at canoeing, Duff also managed to experience some of the other Games excitements, naming the women’s 400m and women’s hockey final as her personal highlights of the Games.
“The atmosphere at both was electric. From the time the gun went, Cathy Freeman strode those long gliding strides and as she rounded the last corner the entire stadium was on their feet cheering. They erupted when she crossed the line first to take gold. I was seated right on the finish line having snuck into the press section. It was nothin* short of amazing and the pressure of the nation lifted with that gold medal. History had been made,” Duff recollects the race.
Summing up the Games, she says, “Samaranch nailed it when he called Sydney ‘the best Games ever’. Sydney siders embraced everything about the Games and put their best foot forward. They learnt to use public transport with a smile, they smiled when herded around events, the weather was perfect and it was a time of sheer pleasure in hosting one of the most significant sporting events on the calendar.
“The naysayers who left town thinking it was their best option actually regretted it afterwards when the buzz continued for weeks to come. The ticker tape parade to welcome the team in the days after the Games finished drew massive crowds as well and people were clinging to the sheer joy the Games brought.”
One of the highlights of the Games were the 45,000 Volunteers and arguably this may have been the first time that Olympic volunteers received the recognition they deserve. They are the lifeblood of our sport and sport in general and we could not do without them.
Sydney 2000 was no different, with volunteers from Australia and around the world investing their time, energy and expertise and playing an essential part in making this ‘the best Games ever’.
“I only have one photo of me as a volunteer in Sydney as unfortunately this was pre digital days and whomever took it didn’t take a clear photo,” Laura White laughs sharing her volunteer picture-memory from the Games.
“I had the longest title ever for the easiest job, ‘Results Operator Scoreboard Interface’. But back then it was really the first ‘technology event’, now that would be completely automated. I sent results to the scoreboard and had great fun in the finish tower as the ground floor was full of Spaniards from IBM, level one was full of Germans and Austrians from Swiss timing and then I sat next to a guy from America who was running the graphics program that showed the mascots doing fun things. He taught me how to use the program and left me to it so he could go see some of the venue,” White recalls her daily working environment.
“The whole island was segregated and you couldn’t just freely walk around like we do at our events and it was a bit strange being told you can’t go somewhere that you always do. But somehow, I got myself into the athlete’s area most days and as a youngster it was fun to cheer on athletes from around the world. It was amazing how many wanted to talk to you simply because you were a volunteer,” White remembers.
So many of Australia’s paddling community had signed up for volunteer and official roles at the canoe/kayak events and Laura’s family was also part of the team with her mum Fran White volunteering in Athlete Services and her dad Tony a Boat Umpire Official.
A paddler herself, White loved the experience at the Regatta Centre but also tried to experience the Games around the city with the Closing Ceremony a highlight at the end of the infamous final day of the canoe sprint competition, which almost ruined it.
“I was fortunate enough to get last minute tickets to the closing ceremony on the most infamous of competition days. We’d been up since about five so by the time competition finally finished and we got a train to Homebush, we missed some of the ceremony but the atmosphere woke us up. Mum and I got seats next to Katie Culbert who was the High-Performance Coordinator at the time and as our athletes passed us they called out for us to come and join them. Katie and I bounded off and jumped the fence and marched and celebrated with the Aussie team. Not something I expect could happen today,” White laughs.
Laura White, who started paddling at the age of 10 and became a Paddle Australia accredited Official at the age of 18, has kept involved in the sport in various sport management, race Official, volunteering and regatta organising committee roles and most recently was appointed ITO for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
“Yes, I’d say my involvement as a volunteer did influence me to stay with my then sport as a young adult. It consolidated why I’d been inspired in the first place from primary school. The atmosphere was overwhelming and incredible, it truly was a unique party time in Sydney. Life felt so carefree and full of endless possibilities. It really did make me want to continue in the sport, work up to being a leader and to become an official at the Games.”
Sydney 2000 was also an inspiring experience for London and Tokyo 2020+1 Olympian Jo Brigden-Jones, who recalls Sydney as the starting point of her own paddling career.
“The Sydney Olympics definitely inspired me, as I was amazed to watch all the athletes and I recognised the spirit of the Games as something very special. I thought it would be incredible to compete at the Olympics, but I never ever thought that I would ever end up being an athlete, let alone an Olympian. I was a pretty sporty kid, but I never believed I would reach that level of competition,” Brigden-Jones remembers.
“It was my mum who mentioned she kept hearing the commentators talk about how each sport requires athletes to have specific body types that are most suited to their sport. And following Sydney, this got my mum thinking about what sport I would be best suited to. I had long limbs, not much coordination and looked pretty scrawny. I don’t think I had found my sport yet but I loved playing netball and doing athletics,” Brigden-Jones laughs.
“A few months after the Games, Mum found out about some Talent identification try outs at the local kayak club (SNBKC), they would be doing testing to pick athletes who might have a body type suited to kayaking. I went along to the tryouts because I had nothing else on that day, I didn’t even really know what kayaking was about. I got selected into the TID program and look where I ended up.”
Being 12-years old at the time, Brigden-Jones remembers a fair bit about the Sydney Olympics in her home-town, including the events she managed to go to with her family and the vibe around the city.
“There was a really cool vibe in Sydney. I loved it all and watched everything very closely and I went to as many events as my family could get tickets to. The Olympic torch ran right past Narrabeen lake and I watched the torch bearers and got some photos with them,” Brigden-Jones recalls.
“I went to athletics and got to watch Cathy Freeman run in her semi-final. I also watched the beach volleyball, equestrian, rowing, canoe slalom and table tennis. We were driving home from the equestrian and were listening to the men’s 4 x 100m relay commentary on the car radio. Our whole family were screaming and cheering, we were so excited, we couldn’t wait to get home and watch the replay,” Brigden-Jones describes the excitement.
“I remember thinking when I was in the stands at the rowing, thinking it was the most boring sport in the world and said to my parents, “who would ever want to do this sport.” Who would have known that the following year I would be racing down the same course in my kayak and I now don’t think kayaking or rowing is boring as I understand the sports more,” Brigden-Jones laughs.
With another possible home games hopefully on the horizon in 2032, Brigden-Jones, who still paddles on Narrabeen Lake when in Sydney and works as a paramedic, encourages all young athletes and aspiring Olympians to find a sport they are really passionate about.
“My advice to you athletes is to find a sport or event you are really passionate about. You will only really have success in something if you truly enjoy what you do. It also makes getting up from training a whole lot easier,” Brigden-Jones says.
“I stuck with kayaking as I really enjoyed the sport and made some great friends along the way. I wasn’t the best paddler when I started the sport but I learnt how to work hard and wanted to get faster than the older girls. I then set myself some goals and started ticking them off. So, dream big, because you never know what you can achieve over the next 10 years of your paddling career!”