30,000 pack Tonkin Oval to welcome Olympic flame in 2000

More than 30,000 packed Tonkin Oval, Cronulla, for the arrival of the Olympic torch just four days before the start of ''the best Games ever'' in 2000.

Marathon swimmer Susie Maroney carried the flame through the excited throng and climbed onto the stage to light the community cauldron.

Sutherland Shire Council had wanted to hold the Torch Relay celebration at Cronulla beach, but was overruled by Games officials, who chose Tonkin Oval because of easier access for large trucks with inbuilt stages.

There was more controversy over plans for the torch to pass through Kurnell next morning before dawn, when most residents would still be asleep.

As it turned out, the pre-dawn Aboriginal ceremony was a highlight.

The torch arrived in Sutherland Shire on Monday, September 11, which was 96 days after its arrival in Australia at Uluru and four days before Cathy Freeman would light the cauldron at the Olympic stadium.

"From Waterfall to Cronulla, crowds far larger and more enthusiastic than expected by organisers lined both main and secondary roads," the Leader reported.

"Footpaths were jammed back to the shopfronts at Miranda."

After the celebration at Cronulla, the torch was taken to Kurnell and the relay resumed early next day, starting with a ceremony around a campfire watched by hundreds of people.

"While some locals thought the 4am start time equated to a snub to the birthplace of modern Australia, the people who braved the dark and early morning chill were treated to a very special experience," the Leader reported.

The relay then headed towards St George, crossing Tom Uglys Bridge about 6.15am.

"Several hundred had gathered at the northern end of the bridge to witness the historic moment, and the crowd erupted as the torch, carried by Denise Langford [former Olympic swimmer and mother of netballer Kimberlee Green] rounded the bend,'' the report said.

"Former Commonwealth Games 5000 metre gold medallist Andrew Lloyd, who ran the torch over the railway bridge and into Hurstville, described the experience as 'magic'.

"Thousands gathered at Westfield Shoppingtown, drawn by the flame, a jazz band, Chinese dragon entertainment and the three Olympic mascots."

Olympian Albie Thomas ran the torch along Woniora Road.

LEADER FLASHBACK

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