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Wednesday, 9 August, 2000, 18:17 GMT 19:17 UK
Aussie odyssey is the brightest ever
Wendy Craig Duncan
Wendy Craig Duncan takes the torch to new depths
By BBC Sport Online's Matt Slater

In keeping with the ancient ideals of endeavour and improvement, the organisers of Sydney 2000 have planned the most ambitious torch relay for the Olympic flame ever.

Unfortunately, in keeping with the reality of the modern Olympics, the journey has not been without controversy or the whiff of scandal.

During the ancient Olympics, which were as much about religion as sport, a sacred flame burned at the altar of Zeus, the father of the gods.

In the modern era, the flame became a powerful symbol of the Olympic movement and was reintroduced for the 1924 Amsterdam Games.

Lambros Papakosta
Papakosta receives the flame at Olympia
But in 1936, Carl Diem, the chairman of the Berlin Games' organising committee, suggested that the flame be lit in Greece and brought to Germany via a torch relay. And, as if by divine intervention, the modern Olympics had spawned its first media circus.

On 10 May, at the ancient site of Olympia in southern Greece, the huge logistical operation of transporting a flame to the other side of the world got underway.

Traditionally lit by the sun's rays and a parabolic mirror, the Olympic Torch was actually kindled by a candle when clouds rolled in to cover the sun.

Family man

Perhaps Zeus was just expressing his opinion on the Greek Olympic Committee's decision to let senior International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Kevan Gosper's daughter Sophie become the first Australian to carry the flame.

Kevan Gosper
Gosper's fatherly pride got the better of him
The 11-year-old Sophie duly received the torch from Greek high jump champion Lambros Papakostas and hopped off down the road to Sydney, while Yianna Souleles, the 16-year-old Greek Australian who was supposed to have the honour, was left on the sidelines.

Kevan Gosper, who had already come in for criticism for accepting hospitality from the organisers of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, was then forced to claim that fatherly pride had clouded his judgement in allowing Sophie take the first leg of the relay.

Other more cynical observers speculated that the decision to drop Yianna in favour Gosper junior had more to do with Greek fears that the IOC was about to strip them of the 2004 Olympics.

Australian swimming legend Dawn Fraser, who called the decision "outrageous", was among the first to pose the question on everyone's lips.

"Are the Greeks doing this because they have been told they may lose the Olympic Games?" she asked.

A torchbearer at Uluru
But with the flame alight, the Olympic Torch - designed to invoke the Sydney Opera House, the blue waters of the Pacific and the boomerang - was packed on a plane for Guam so the real fun could start.

Oceania blue

Having spent a very agreeable month canoeing its way southwards through Oceania, the torch relay arrived in Australia on 8 June and started the final 100-day leg from Ayers Rock to the opening ceremony in Sydney.

Between then and 15 September the flame will travel 27,000 kilometres around Australia, through 11,000 pairs of hands, via 50 different modes of transport.

During this epic voyage, 10,400 breakfasts will be guzzled and 13,114 hotel beds slept in by the Torch Relay crew.

Forty-seven vehicles will be on permanent relay duty, and another 300 will be used for getting to those more remote locations.

Evander Holyfield
Evander Holyfield before Atlanta's opening ceremony
Among the highlights already visited are South Australia's Naracoorte Caves and a bungi-jump site in Queenstown, New Zealand.

It has been carried by skiers, mountain bikes, flying doctors and a camel, but the most impressive means of transport was by scuba diver.

Underwater wonder

Port Douglas marine biologist Wendy Craig Duncan took the torch underwater for two minutes 40 seconds on 27 June so that the Great Barrier Reef's fish could see the Olympic flame.

Gasing agents, including oxygen and nitrogen, were packed into the steel tube under high pressure in order to maintain a flame so hot it would burn underwater.

Afterwards an excited Torch Relay general manager Di Henry said: "Like Uluru (Ayers Rock) the Great Barrier Reef is an extraordinary piece of nature and we are proud to be showcasing it to the world as we write a new chapter in torch relay history by taking the Olympic flame underwater."

Stadium Australia
Stadium Australia: The flame's destination
But while the Torch Relay's various exploits have been an undoubted success, there has been some embarrassment surrounding the flame's final destination, the Olympic cauldron at Stadium Australia.

Traditionally kept secret, the cauldron was inadvertently revealed to the Australian media on 19 July by workmen at the Olympic stadium.

Cauldron calamity

Reporters visiting the site to check on the preparations got their unexpected preview when workers left the cauldron uncovered.

The black structure, standing more than three metres above the northern grandstand, was in view for more than an hour before the mistake was realised.

The workmen then quickly covered the dish with tarpaulins and lowered the entire structure out of sight.

But it was too late as pictures of the centrepiece were broadcast on Australian television later in the day.

Thankfully, the identity of the person who will light the cauldron remains a secret, but given the Australian flavour of what has preceded, the favourites are Skippy the Kangaroo and Dame Edna Everidge.

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