Barry Davies' Olympic Moments: Sydney 2000 ceremony panic

By Barry DaviesOlympic Games broadcaster since Mexico 1968

In a 10-part series, BBC broadcaster Barry Davies recalls the most memorable Olympic moments of his 44 years on air from the Games.

For Australia, only one person would ever be synonymous with the Sydney 2000 Games.

Cathy Freeman had to be successful. People will remember her race, her bodysuit and the style with which she won her 400m gold, but she had a task right at the beginning.

Everybody said Freeman would be the person to light the Olympic cauldron and, after the Australians went through a host of names earlier in the opening ceremony - Betty Cuthbert, Raelene Boyle, Dawn Fraser, Shane Gould and more - that proved to be correct.

The torch arrived, the spotlight came on, and there was Cathy Freeman.

I provided commentary on the opening ceremony and it is often difficult to know during these things exactly what will take place and who the personalities will be. As a man doing his first summer Games opening ceremony, I had already been thrown a tester when Crocodile Dundee didn't turn up at the beginning.

As a broadcaster you are allowed to see one rehearsal, but one thing the organisers would not tell us was how the cauldron was going to be lit.

I was on-air as Cathy Freeman came into view, and she waited there for a moment with a smile on her face, showing the torch to the crowd before departing off up a set of steps.

At the top, she reached a platform and walked into what appeared to be a pond below a waterfall. She lowered the flame around this pond, lighting it up. And then she stood there.

For four minutes.

"What an anti-climax," I said, because I didn't know what was going to happen and I suspect very, very few others did.

There had clearly been a malfunction but, without knowing what was supposed to happen, it was difficult to know what to say or what to expect. Freeman stood there for those four minutes without batting an eyelid. That was four minutes of agony, a great deal longer than it took her to win the 400m gold.

The story goes that around 20 seconds of fuel for the flaming pond remained when, suddenly, a spaceship-like object rose up, leaving Freeman down below and moving up to the cauldron. The flame had been lit.

Can you imagine what would have happened if the flame had gone out while everything was still stuck in place down below? They came very, very close to disaster after an excellent ceremony.

Ceremonies can set the tone, even though I know a lot of people can't stand them and I would concede that there is always at least one specially written song and act too many.

There are people who would like to see the march-past cut back because it takes too long, but I think that would be terrible, because that is the moment at which all the people competing realise they are living up to the Olympic ideal. That is their moment, going around the stadium. Talk to anybody who has carried the flag for Great Britain and they will tell you how much that means.

In simple terms, ceremonies are about history, tradition and the future. Something like Sydney is what we should be aiming at.

Beijing 2008 was a brilliant ceremony, but the British ceremony should add something that Beijing couldn't - the British ceremony, surely, will have heart.