You have to walk up part of the Formula One track to get into the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre, and once inside you can complete the grand prix illusion by paying almost as much for a sandwich and chocolate bar as you did for your ticket.
As the name suggests, the building houses the pool, where the weight of Australian expectations is so great they couldn’t put a roof over it. Clutching my priceless chicken-loaf baguette, I rushed by, seeking my thrills at one of the events the Australian media inevitably files under Other Sports.
The squash arena is a large, darkened room dominated by a glass court floodlit in a way unnervingly suggestive of the cell they kept Hannibal Lecter in. In a few hours the men’s gold medal match would be contested by an Australian, David Palmer, and the women’s by Toowoomban sisters Natalie and Rachael Grinham. The bronze hadn’t been decided yet, but the host nation was already guaranteed, at worst, one gold and two silver medals.
Given the small number of medals and the proper competition on offer, squash must be just about our most successful sport. Why hadn’t Ken Sutcliffe told me about this? In the bronze medal game, Kiwi lesser seed Shelley Kitchen knocked out Malaysian world number one Nicole David, an upset so great that in the commotion I smudged a tiny fleck of chocolate worth approximately $2.30 into my trousers. Later a friend covering the event for the ABC explained: “David’s a real celebrity in Malaysia, this is massively popular over there. These sports are like their pool.”
Later, the Grinhams fought each other for gold and Palmer lost out in four tough games to Englishman Peter Nicol.
Next door, the swim fans were going bananas. Home viewers were watching gold stack up for Australia. But in the Hannibal Lecter Arena, we had a whole other Games to ourselves.