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A movable Olympic feast

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Latest: Wednesday September 13, 2000 02:52 PM


I sit in a red plastic Coca-Cola chair. The chair is part of a nest of chairs on a stretch of macadam between two square, utilitarian buildings that are parts of the Main Press Center complex. The sun peaks through at an odd angle. The time is 11 o'clock in the morning.

"Are we going to play basketball?" a sportswriter from Atlanta asks as he walks past.

"Yes, sure, probably," I reply to the back of his head. "One of these days."

My new credential hangs from my neck on a yellow piece of ribbon. The credential is maybe eight inches tall, four inches wide. My picture and name are on the front. I have been in Sydney, Australia, for four hours, far end of the earth, 15 time zones from home, different, different, different. But here I am on familiar ground. The inside workings of the Olympics do not change very much, no matter where they are.

"Whenja get here?" someone asks.

"Yesterday," someone replies.

"Whatcha covering?"

The Main Press Center is a movable little city, a generic grid of tiny offices and warrens for the media outlets of the world. It is assembled almost as if it were shipped here as a kit, straight from Atlanta or Nagano or Barcelona or Lillehammer. Everything is much the same as it was at the last Olympics and the one before that and the one before that and that. The office furniture is much the same. The phones and televisions and machines are the same. The computers with instant results and information are the same. The people are the same, familiar faces from around the world.

Everyone and everything is part of the kit. I am part of the kit.

SI At The Olympics
• Grant Wahl: Women's Soccer -- One-on-One with April Heinrichs
• Brian Cazeneuve: Pinning away
• Tim Layden: U.S. track coach faces tough call
• Leigh Montville: A movable feast

More Features
• Viewers' Guide: What to watch for
• Quiz: Today's Tester
• Closer Look: Michael Lewis -- U.S. soccer team uses its heads

• Photo Gallery: Athletes arrive
• Photo Gallery: Let the games begin
• Multimedia Central: Photo Galleries, Audio and More
From where I sit, I can see a final checkpoint for entry to the grounds. Volunteers in blue and yellow uniforms read the credentials of photographers, who are carrying cameras with giant lenses that make them look like bazookas. I can see a few members of the U.S. women's water polo team, guided by public relations officers, headed toward a press conference. I can see workmen, hurrying, still trying to install a heating system in one of the buildings. I can see action, feel the new-arrival buzz.

The latest estimate is that there will be 22,000 journalists covering these Games. Can this be? Are there that many journalists, 22,000, on the entire earth? This is where they will come to type out their stories on the glories of the athletes, the wonders of Australia. This is where they will ship their photographs of kangaroos and koala bears. This is where they will babble their new Aussie phrases into microphones, the same way they described the joys of Peachtree Street, the intricacies of kabuki theatre, the grim sight of the 38th Parallel at other times. A middle-aged man talks in a foreign language with a younger woman in the red plastic chairs next to me. I think it is French. A few Asians stand and smoke cigarettes. A guy from Sweden, who I think I remember, looks through the contents of the welcoming gift, an Olympic backpack with a logo for Foster's beer on the back. He studies a box of something called "Uncle Toby's Breakfast Bars".

And away we go.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Leigh Montville is in Sydney covering the Olympics for He will file Viewpoints from Sydney throughout the Games.

Related information
Leigh Montville's Insider Archive
SI's Brian Cazeneuve: Medal Picks
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