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Sydney Olympic legacy up with best: Coates

11 September 2015

SYD2000: John Coates knows he's biased. But Australia's Olympic heavyweight reckons the legacy of the 2000 Sydney Olympics is, like the Games themselves, the best.

"It's good, eh?" Coates told AAP. "You get out to Homebush now and there is a permanent working population there. The village has been completed; people are living there; it's a whole suburb.

"We really can say the legacy that has been left from our Games is as good as any that has ever been seen."

Some 15 years ago, Australian Olympic Committee president Coates and fellow Australians were basking in the moment. Legacies could wait - the nation was too busy with final preparations for hosting the most glorious of Games.

For 17 heady days from September 15 to October 1, Sydney was the focal point of world attention.

Sydney's Games were an astounding triumph: clockwork organisation, memorably enthusiastic volunteers, fine weather, slick stadiums, trusty transport.

And sure, International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch might have been a crusty old codger. But didn't the harbour city burst with pride when he declared the Games as the "best ever".

Sydney's success opened the world's eyes to Australia. And Australians responded with a confident wink.

"Our natural self-doubt dissipated," said Ian Thorpe, who won three of his nine Olympic medals in Sydney.

Since the Sydney Games, Australians have been sought to help manage many major world events - and the country has put on other eye-catching sporting shows including world cups in cricket and rugby, and the Commonwealth Games.

Beyond sport, Sydney's Olympics helped Australia get a seat at the table in world commercial and political terms.

And while the expected upsurge in long-term tourism might not have eventuated, Coates points to Homebush as the lasting legacy.

But it wasn't always that way.

Olympic Park sat near-idle in years after the Games before morphing into a sporting and community hub.

The park has since attracted more than $1 billion in post-Games investment.

It hosts a daily working and residential population of more than 19,000, including the created suburb of Newington on the site of the athletes' village.

Games facilities remain in constant use with the Olympic stadium a magnet, topping more than one million spectators this year and on track for its highest annual attendance since the Olympics.

Since the Olympic stadium opened in 1999, more than 23 million people have attended events there.

The 430-hectare park, which contains 300 hectares of endangered and threatened species habitat, was visited by 2.8 million people last year for a range of activities.

The aquatics centre is Sydney's busiest and boasts the largest swim school in the nation, while Games venues are still used for athletics, archery, hockey and tennis, and the park's pavilions host badminton, volleyball, handball, table tennis and martial arts.

Commercial interests - businesses, accommodation, cafes, bars, restaurants - abound in a park which cashes in on another intangible legacy from Sydney's Olympics: the feel-good factor.

Australians were collectively buoyed by the entire experience of hosting an Olympics, a warmth which Coates hopes Rio de Janeiro, host of next year's Games, will experience.

"The legacy is different for them," Coates said.

"It has been important to open up parts of their city to a better transport infrastructure.

"Some people were dispossessed from their homes in favelas and they have been given new homes.

"So it's certainly going to be a better place to live, there is no doubt about that. There are more social legacies than were necessary here."

Steve Larkin

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