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Monday, 3 January, 2000, 14:08 GMT
Ready for 2000 and beyond

Opera House The famous Opera House symbolises Sydney's confident feel

By Hugh Westbrook in Sydney

Olympic year is finally upon us and Sydney's venues are in a prime state of readiness for September's games.

I was lucky enough to be taken to Homebush, to the east of the city centre, to see Olympic Park for myself.

The day of my tour was not typical of the sunny weather that organisers hope will greet the world on 15 September.

Stadium Australia Stadium Australia is a new landmark on the Sydney skyline
Sunny days and temperatures in the 20s are expected next spring, but this was summer and as if to remind me of Australia's enduring ties to the motherland it was raining and cold.

Homebush is an impressive site, a tangle of floodlight pylons and stand roofs, and the designers have taken full advantage of the space on offer by building everything on a grand scale.

Sometimes it is difficult to know where to look first but a good place might be the visitors centre and café.

Housed in the listed Vernon buildings, it is a low-slung redbrick structure which contrasts visibly with the new structures.

It was a great night for Sydney. This stadium is really impressive.
PM John Howard opens Stadium Australia
Nevertheless, a grey day does not promote the area at its best.

Much of the stadium architecture is austere and colourless, with grey and white and futuristic tubes of metal predominating.

The area will come into its element when the wide pedestrianised streets are thronging with the estimated 300,000 daily visitors during the games.

The trees will be in full bloom and giant screens will beam the action to ticketless masses.

Olympic torch The Olympic torch is heading for New South Wales
For now, colour comes from the dark blue solar lighting towers which straddle walkways and the red lights of the baseball stadium, while occasional flashes of seating break up the monochrome.

I was taken into three venues, with Stadium Australia a predictably impressive showpiece.

Seas of sky blue seats rise up on both sides, with sheer stands at either end.

These will be removed after the Olympics to reduce the capacity, while the large gap in the seating at one end is set to receive the Olympic flame.

The venue does though suffer from the inevitable problems of trying to incorporate athletics and football codes, and those attending rugby at the stadium have already noticed the difficulties of viewing from a long distance.

Sydney Harbour Sydney Harbour will be used to stage Olympic sailing events
The four corner spirals aid speedy exit, while in the interior of the stadium, a road runs all the way underneath to provide essential services.

This will coincide with the action momentarily as the marathon runners will run through the service road and a dark corridor before emerging into the stadium and the acclaim of more than 100,000 people.

The Sydney Aquatic centre is already popular among Sydneysiders and was packed with children the day I visited.

Olympic swimmers using the warm-up pool will be hoping that the favourite attraction of younger Sydneysiders, the inflatable Loch Ness monster, has been removed come September.

The Olympic pool is currently used for lane swimming by the public but in competition it has already seen a whole host of world records shattered.

It is regarded as a fast pool, not least because of the way the water drains off its sides so reducing resistance for the swimmers.

I saw one child posing for a photograph on the small diving board at the start of a lane, a sight that will surely only increase after the games.

The Sydney SuperDome is perhaps the most impressive of all the new venues due to its adaptability, although it will only be hosting artistic gymnastics, trampolining and basketball finals in September.

Taekwondo Taekwondo will make its first Olympic appearance at Sydney
Completed in September last year, it has a total capacity of 21,000 which can be altered according to which of a myriad of activities is taking place.

These include basketball, indoor jet skiing, monster truck racing or the recent Luciano Pavarotti concert.

The view from all heights is still close enough to the action, while detailed work on acoustics ensures excellent sound retention to enhance any atmosphere.

The venue is also justifiably proud of its environmental stance, which even extends to filling the roof with old telephone directories for soundproofing.

Having lost my bearings by being driven past a host of other venues, I then went the short drive out to the ongoing work in the Olympic village.

This will house all the athletes conveniently close to the main stadia in September.

Solar-powered, the village will be transformed into a new suburb once the games are over, and some houses are already occupied by those who have moved into Newington.

The street names commemorate famous Olympians, and British athletes may be hoping to be housed on Daley Thompson Street to give them good luck.

Much work remains to be done. Many mounds of earth sit at the sides of the roads awaiting transformation into features.

Since a completed feature outside the SuperDome is a giant grass pyramid, it seems safe to conclude that the finished area will keep mythological experts entertained for years searching for esoteric meaning.

However, there is no doubt that Olympic Park is already an impressive destination for fans of sports arenas, with tours of many venues on offer.

Homebush will be a suitable setting for the 2000 Games, while the organisers' hopes of providing an enduring legacy to the people of Sydney seem set be realised.

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