Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
2 July 2016
My last report here was from Barcelona 1992. I did not attend the Atlanta, USA, Olympics of 2000. Instead, bad luck (I don’t think so!), I was instead on assignment in South Africa on one of the great All Black rugby tours!
Right from the start I felt comfortable attending the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. That shouldn’t be a surprise of course. When its all broken down Aussies are very like Kiwis aren’t they? We both have low-key people, who like being relaxed and unpretentious, thank goodness that’s the way we are Down Under.
Many or most New Zealanders have been to Australia, what with our interest in rugby, rugby league, cricket and life in general. So arriving on another trip at Sydney airport it was just like a weekend arriving for a Bledisloe Cup rugby test. Except for once it was for the Olympic Games.
On that first day I recall we were put in a bus by the first of dozens of hard case Aussie bus-drivers we were to meet over the next three weeks. And straight away there was a wee problem. The driver came from Wollongong and had not the slightest idea where to go to find the hotel. In the end we TVNZ staffers directed him to it. This was the first of a number of what turned out to be minor complications the Australian organiser’s had. The friendly out of town drivers weren’t too au fait with “all this flamin’ city drivin,’”
But we got there in the end.
This time at the Games, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies, I was to broadcast field events from the main stadium. My co-broadcaster from the field was Jayne Kiely, the former New Zealand long and triple jump champion and representative at the Commonwealth Games and World Championships. In those days Jayne worked in a number of things; some of which include significant TV work. At Sydney as part of our games team she was a joy to be with.
Jayne is, as you might say, rather fetching to look at, hence I noticed a stream of my crusty old broadcasting mates from Games past coming by to say hello to “me” every day. How nice of them I thought! Funny though, much of the conversations were directed at ‘how well was Jayne feeling today, etc.’
[Actually, I have a good story about Jayne, which I know she doesn’t really mind me telling. So read on. I’ll get to it later.]
I suppose my feelings about the Sydney Olympic Games were warmed up for me in advance when I was chosen as one of only a few in the New Zealand media to run with the Olympic torch in its journey through our country. There I was one cool afternoon dressed to kill in the over-sized all-white uniform and waiting for the flame to come along in Wellington’s famous (or is it infamous night life headquarters) Courtenay Place.
Soon enough I had it in my grasp and I took off for my half-mile of glory. There is now a photo in our house of me jogging (staggering) along but the smile of pride looking up at the flame could not be any different than that which a man gives at the sight of his first-born baby. Gee, I look happy. [Fact is though; when my half-mile was up I was knackered as I handed over to the next runner. But keep this bit quiet! The lady who sprung off after me was a great local figure, aged nearly 90!]
Right from the opening ceremony these Sydney games were great. Those Aussies had Olympic respect mixed with Aussie humour and style. A lot of what they did was infectious. One example; The Olympic Village organiser’s wanted an appropriate name to hang over the door for the main restaurant and café area. We read that the Aussies wanted the winning entry to be “Wayne and Tonio’s Sandwich Ranch,”(get it?) which one person sent in. The Games’ starchy people opted for something conservative like “Restaurant – This Way” with an arrow pointing. I reckon even the out-going IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch would have approved. (…ah, now you do!)
There was one other reason for me to feel personal pride at these Olympics. That was because my wife and I had our daughter Rowan was also accredited there as a reporter. ‘Rowie’ had been working in Lausanne, Switzerland for several years, for the World Rowing body (FISA) and in her job she went out to report that sport in Sydney. She was there in the media throng when Rob Waddell won the single sculls, and wrote about the gold medal, which turned out to be New Zealand’s only one won in Sydney.
As a nation we were so pleased at the win that the prestigious Sunday Star-Times headlined Waddell’s win with one word – “HALLELJUAH!” shouted across the front page. [On New Zealand radio, commentator Andrew Saville gave one of the great radio commentary calls – “Rob Waddell –You are Awesome! (Oarsome!].
Even though the Sydney Games didn’t have great success for us New Zealanders, they were still a joy to be at. I will never forget the sight of flashing camera bulbs which followed Cathy Freeman as she raced around in the 400 metres final, almost like a flame following her passage through the race. Fantastic!
There were other moments too, like Marion Jones on the track, wowing us all with win after win. (Such a shame we found out later her flashing runs were all drug-enhanced) And Sir Steve Redgrave carving himself a notch in Olympic history by winning at his fifth Games in a row. Barbara Kendall and Aaron McIntosh did things in boardsailing with silver and bronzes for New Zealand.
It was a well-organised games, the TV coverage back to New Zealand got us plenty of stick of course. Once the public got into it they wanted more and more and more. This was because for the first time the Olympics were in our time zone. TVNZ did the very rare thing of cancelling a night’s evening 6p.m News broadcast so that they could show instead a women’s hockey match, but still the calls came for more and more.
Now finally, let me go back to the story I was going to tell you about my friend and broadcasting colleague Jayne Kiely. In all my time as a commentator, and this, remember was my sixth Olympics, I had never worked before with a new mother. Jayne had had the second of her two kids just six weeks before the Games. So she brought the wee fella over from Auckland with her. Of course he needed his mum. Every day Jayne had a friend come in and do a full day session of babysitting. That allowed Jayne to head out to the Olympic Games excitement. There was an interesting snag though, one I hadn’t struck before.
Jayne was breast feeding and not to put too fine a point on it, she carried in her gear-bag into the main stadium every day all of the “equipment” (well, that’s my word for it) needed for her to express her mother’s milk which she was producing of course and which would be needed for her son’s use the following day.
[Old joke; “It’s good milk and it comes in very attractive containers.” Boom boom!]
So Jayne slipped into an easy daily routine. She’s a bright thing is our Jaynie. You have to imagine the scene every day. There would be Jayne and I, heading for another exciting day of track and field commentary, and we would stroll towards the Olympic Stadium. We would approach the security officers for bag check. It is what happens to everyone of course.
Jayne would put her bag down for inspection. The tough looking dudes in their security jackets then would peer inside it. They would then recoil in horror, for lying there in the bag was the complicated set up of pipes, tubes and bottles, just, the security officers no doubt thought, what every self-respecting terrorist bomber needed to have to cause a big scene.
The Aussie security blokes had no idea in the wide world about breastfeeding. Instead they looked at pretty Jayne and had looks of suspicion at her lame “excuse.” Momentarily they seemed to regard her with serious mistrust.
To them in that instant she was quite obviously a pretty, James Bond-girl activist.
Each day it all ended happily of course. Jayne would explain what all the pipes and tubes were for. The female security guards, they knew of course, while the wide-eyed blokes doing the job, suddenly nodded knowingly. “We knew too, as well, “they said, feebly.
Well done, our Jaynie.
I remember one other thing about the Sydney Olympic Games and it was a final commentary on how good they were. They were by then my favourite Games in fact. And after the last session of Track and Field and all of the Gold Medals had been handed out across all 28 sports, we came to the closing ceremony.
And that was a great show too. The Mayor of Athens was in place to receive the Olympic flag, Juan Antonio Samaranch declared the Games as the “best ever” and there were tears intermingled with the dancing and the laser lights.
After the show was over, and that meant it was finally and irrevocably over, we old sweats around the commentary boxes (Jayne Kiely excepted of course!) we packed up our gear and stuffed it into bulging briefcases. Then we trudged wearily upstairs to the media room where there was much backslapping and expressions of “see you in four years,” from broadcasters and reporters from all over the world. Then someone pressed a cold one into your hands and that meant you could not rush away. More time passed as we chatted away. Then, of course in the great tradition of common decency you have to buy the bloke a cold one in return. And more stories are swapped. More time passes, “gee,” you think, “it must be after midnight now.” Then, once again you try and head to the door to wend your weary way home.
Even when all that time had passed and it must have been hours since the Olympic torch had been extinguished; when we got down to the bottom and found our exit to head out into the street there was an archway of blue-dressed Aussie volunteers still in place. They were there, still in place, cheering us! Cheering us of the media! This was unprecedented.
“Have a good trip home!” they shouted to all and sundry, “and come again!” they called to we media people of every race, colour and hew. To think these volunteers could have gone home hours ago, tired after their three weeks of un-celebrated endeavours. But no, they wanted to see us all off in a true blue Aussie way. It was a fantastic final gesture.
Look, its now 16 years on, and if any of you from those volunteers, happen to be reading this, your final gesture was appreciated and very memorable. So was the way you cheerily made our full stay in beautiful Sydney so unforgettable.
I agree with Juan Antonia Samaranch – he who was the boss of ‘Wayne and Tonio’s Sandwich Ranch’ – Sydney was the “Best Olympic Games Ever!”
Read here in a couple of days; as I still have Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012 to write about - not to mention me daily blogs for Rio 2016.
Australia played a superb game in the RWCup semi-final to beat Gary Whetton's NZ team by 16-6 in Dublin.
Cardiff and Wales
53 internationals for Wales 1967–78
10 internationals for British Isles 1968–74
Gareth Edwards was one of the most widely acclaimed rugby players of all time – a brilliantly versatile halfback and a strong physical competitor who captured the imagination and admiration of players and followers all over the world.
Edwards first came to prominence outside Wales as a teenager on the Cardiff club’s tour of South Africa in 1967, where he played in a number of positions in the backline. Once back in Wales his enormous talents were soon focused on scrumhalf play. He was chosen for his country three months before his 20th birthday and was never dropped until his retirement. Ten years later, with 53 caps, he had set a record for most internationals for Wales, which stood until passed by J.P.R. Williams in 1981. Edwards’s tests were consecutive – both a world record then, and a monumental feat.
In all his internationals, he was in the losing side on no more than 15 occasions. He scored 20 tries in internationals, at the time also a Welsh record, although later equalled by Gerald Davies and later still passed by Ieuan Evans and Gareth Thomas. Edwards’ total of 63 internationals was also, in its time of few tests in any year, the world’s highest for a scrumhalf. He was Wales’s youngest ever international captain (20 years, seven months in the match against Scotland in February 1968).
At the time of his debut for Wales, in the Five Nations match v France in 1967, Edwards was a physical education student at Cardiff Training College. Later, he switched clubs to Cardiff and became a successful businessman. Later still, at the end of his playing days, he was a media commentator and reporter on the game.
A master of the spin-pass, Edwards had all the other attributes of the complete scrumhalf. His kicking was skilful, his running devastating to any of the opposition that could stay near his electric bursts, and his competitiveness was relentless. He dominated many matches simply because of his presence on the field. He was a brilliant opportunist and scorer of tries.
Perhaps the only aspect of his game that did not reach the highest level was as a captain. Many people felt he was inhibited slightly as a leader, with the result that other Welshmen came past him to lead the national XV. He did not resent this, rather it allowed him to return his full concentration to the scrumhalf role. In all, he was captain of his country in 13 tests.
Edwards played superbly in partnership with that other great Welsh personality, Barry John. The two were together as a scrum-outside half combination on 23 occasions, then the world record. Edwards was part of the great era in Welsh rugby that followed almost exactly the dates of his career. He also played superbly for the British Isles in New Zealand in 1971 and in South Africa in 1974. Both those series were won during what were some of British rugby’s greatest days.
He took part in and, indeed, scored the try that is often hailed as one of the greatest ever seen in the game. It was for the Barbarians club against the All Blacks of 1972–73 at Cardiff. The capacity home crowd of 60,000 roared so loudly they distorted forever the television recordings of Edwards diving in at the end of a 90-metre movement.
Edwards possessed a most charming and modest personality, and became in his time one of the most revered characters in Wales – and the rest of the rugby world.
In 1997 he was one of the first players inaugurated into the International Rugby Hall of Fame.
Stories abound about Gareth Edwards’ prowess at the game. One story has it that on the day of an England-Wales game at Twickenham, one Welsh supporter could not get a ticket so he waited forlornly outside the ground hoping at least to soak up some of the atmosphere and to hear the result. Eventually he became frustrated at not knowing what was happening in the game, so he called up to some people who were in the ground and asked them what was happening. They happened to be English, so they called back ungraciously that all the Welsh team except Gareth Edwards had been carried off injured. This disturbed the already sad Welsh supporter, but he remained typically optimistic. When a huge roar erupted from the ground a few minutes later, he again called up to the crowd. ‘What’s happened, what’s happened?' he said, 'Gareth scored, has he?’
Such a story is typical of the admiration and affection that existed for one of the greatest of rugby men.
When Ireland played Australia in Dublin in 1958 what coloured jerseys did each team wear?