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.
Stern criticism of the 'elite' International Rugby Board was offered by USA Rugby Chairman Bob Watkins at the Asian Pacific Rugby Congress in Hong Kong, leading to the eventual expansion of the IRB from only eight countries to the over 130 nations today.
If there has been a problem for Aborigines in Australian rugby history, it mirrors attitudes by the Australian public in general. There was an early typecasting of the race as non-achievers in life as in sport. But in rugby the Aborigines have produced a number of champion players.
The most famous were the Ella brothers, Mark, Glen and Gary, who showed the world a brilliantly instinctive degree of understanding of each other on the field of play. Their fame was worldwide in rugby. All were test players around the same time, though they never all played in the same test match.
Mark Ella was one of the First Fifteen of players inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in London in 1997. He is remembered as one of the glittering stars of Australian rugby. The other two from the family, Glen and Gary, were thrilling backline runners too, and all later became much respected coaches.
It is thought that the first Aborigine player to be capped for Australia was Jack ‘Blondie’ Howard in 1938. His teammates at the time were not all sure of his racial background and Howard apparently was never keen on discussing it. Alongside Howard in the tests of 1938 was Cecil Ramalli,who was part-Indian and part-Aborigine. It is said that Ramali, too, never revealed his Aboriginality. He preferred to be known as part-Indian.
Eventually Aborigine players emerged who were happy to declare their race. Lloyd McDermott of Queensland was a pacy winger who played tests against the All Blacks in 1962.
In the years after the Ella brothers came Lloyd Walker, Barry Lea, Andrew Walker and Jim Williams, all of whom were Wallabies. After originally being a centre, Williams was the first forward of Aborigine descent to play test football.
Who was the last New Zealand Referee to control the All Blacks in an Official test match?