SYDNEY – With the volunteer program for the London 2012 Olympics set to launch, Sebastian Coe paid tribute Wednesday to the organizers and workers who delivered a "staggering" Sydney Games a decade ago.
Australia's biggest city was celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Sydney Olympics with a series of celebrations, including a commemoration for former International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch and runner Cathy Freeman re-enacting the lighting of the cauldron.
Samaranch, who died earlier this year, had described Sydney 2000 as the "best Olympic Games ever." Jacques Rogge, who succeeded Samaranch as head of the IOC, said Wednesday in a recorded message that "the 2000 Games went down in history as a model of organizational success."
Coe, head of the London 2012 organizing committee, said Sydney had "put the smile back on the face of the Olympic family" in the wake of the problems at Atlanta in 1996.
"Never was a city so vibrant, excited and frankly embracing of an Olympics games," Coe, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 1,500 meters, told a fundraiser for Australia's 2012 Olympic team. "Venues never so full. Sport, never so inspiring.
"This was the Olympic movement — faster, higher, stronger — like it had never been before.
"As we drive toward London, you have given us in our organizing committee a template," he added. "You delivered a staggering games."
Coe commended the thousands of smiling, helpful volunteers for turning "a good games into a great games" and urged Australians to encourage people in Britain to get involved in London 2012.
The main Sydney Olympic Park at Homebush has become a thriving retail and sporting hub attracting $1 billion in investment since the games and up to 9.1 million visitors each year. The Athletes' Village was transformed into the upmarket suburb of Newington.
The bulk of games venues are still heavily used. The main stadium was reduced to an 80,000-set capacity, but still attracts 1.1 million people per year to domestic and international rugby and soccer matches.
The aquatics center attracts more than 1 million people annually for competition or leisure and the basketball venue has become a leading indoor entertainment arena.
Australian Olympic Committee chief John Coates, who was head of the Sydney organizing committee and is now on the executive board of the IOC, said he was proud of the benchmarks set in 2000.
"We've got some wonderful sporting legacies. I'm very proud of everything that's out at Homebush and the way it's been maintained," he said. "The area that I'm critical of is that there wasn't further investment in promoting the city and getting events here in convention space.
"To be fair, 9-11 happened. To be fair, there's been some financial crises over the last 10 years," he added. "If there's a lesson to be learned, you can't just host a games and think the tourism and the conventions will necessarily follow. You've got to be out there and be active."
An area of Sydney Olympic Park was dedicated to Freeman on Wednesday, with Coates describing the first Australian Aboriginal to win an individual Olympic gold medal as a "national institution" for her role as the face of the games and for reconciliation in Australia.
Freeman said the memories of lighting the cauldron on the opening night and winning her first Olympic gold — after taking silver in Atlanta and winning two world championships — would never fade.
Coe said the evening Freeman won the 400 was the best session of athletics he can remember.
Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe, who was 17 when he won the 400 freestyle and anchored the winning relay in world-record time on the opening night of competition, said he was sorry the games had to end.
"I'm proud of what we did as a city and as a nation," Thorpe said. "That was how I felt when I walked into the village. The sadness that I felt when the closing ceremony happened. I realized how wonderful this event had been."