- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2000

SYDNEY, Australia

Today millions of Australians finally can live without fear. The long national nightmare soon will be over. The Olympic flame will be lit, and the torch that has been carried throughout the land finally will be snuffed out.

"It's OK, Johnny," an Australian father somewhere will be able to tell his son. "That torch can't hurt us anymore."

The Olympic torch has rampaged through the countryside over the past few months, leaving a path of destruction behind.

It began in May, when the torch nearly sent Australian International Olympic Committee vice president Kevan Gosper's career up in flames. Gosper arranged to have his 12-year-old daughter be the first Australian to run with the Olympic torch in Greece, bumping the Greek-Australian girl who had been picked for the honor.

Gosper was burned for his role in the move, with charges of nepotism filling the Australian press. It was like one of those Western forest fires, raging out of control. The bold, front page headline on the tabloid Daily Telegraph read, "Greedy, Obstinate, Selfish, Pompous, Egotistic, Ruffian."

And those were the good things they said.

At first, Gosper was defiant, arguing that he did nothing wrong. But the heat was too much, and the next day he was forced to make a public apology for a "lapse in judgment."

That's what happens when you mess with the god of hell and fire.

Then, as it made its way through Australia, people began treating the torch like it was some sort of prize and started trying to snatch it away from the runners. One kid perhaps out of fear, perhaps out of sense of duty tried to put the flame out by aiming a fire extinguisher at it, but he missed.

Last month some poor girl got burned while carrying the torch as gas leaked from it. And then a 74-year-old man died of a heart attack minutes after carrying the torch.

Still, the torch went on defiantly, with Australians seemingly blind to the danger. How blind? They let Greg Norman carry it for a stretch.

Greg Norman? I'm surprised all of Sydney didn't go up in flames.

The official line among the Australian media here has been how the torch has been such an uplifting event and how it represents all that is right and good about the Olympics.

You think the torch began back in the days of the original Greek Games? You think this is some sort of wonderful, ancient tradition?

The torch was the creation of the organizer of the 1936 Berlin Games in Adolf Hitler's Germany. Sort of gives you a warm feeling, doesn't it?

It probably doesn't bother the Sultan of Smugness, IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, too much, though. After all, this former fascist from Spain thought the wrong side won World War II.

Maybe it's time to consider dropping the torch and come up with a more appropriate Olympic symbol to carry.

How about a subpoena?

There has been much speculation within the press here about who will get the honor of lighting the Olympic flame. Australians will bet on anything, and reportedly thousands of them have been calling the local sports books here to try to place bets.

The books aren't taking bets on the flame lighting, though, because it is a predetermined event. I guess that means there won't be any betting on Olympic boxing either.

Sydney has a tough act to follow after Muhammad Ali shocked the world one more time when he appeared in Atlanta to light the flame.

Let's face it the Australians have no one who can match that drama. Go on, put together a list of prominent internationally known Australians in your head… . OK, you can stop now.

Ali is already in Sydney, so maybe it will be him again this time reunited with an old opponent, the only Australian heavyweight anyone ever heard of Joe Bugner with them lighting the flame together.

Then Ali could turn to the camera and say, "Bugner still don't bug me."

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