Like many people around the world, I absolutely LOVE the Olympics. There’s just something about the spirit of the athletes and the intensity of the competition that makes me very emotional. I’ve been very fortunate to have visited a few cities around the world that have hosted Olympics in the past, and I’m always excited when I have the opportunity to toward Olympic facilities. I saw the stadium and park in Montréal when I was a kid and the stadium in Barcelona in 2002, but that was when I was still walking.
So you can imagine my absolute delight when I discovered during my recent visit to Australia that Sydney’s Olympic stadium and aquatic center, as well as the Olympic Park area, were all wheelchair accessible! The park is about 25 km outside of downtown, so I had to figure out the best way to get there first. I decided on the train over the bus because the train line has a station directly across the street from the Olympic Stadium. Using Sydney’s trains is a piece of cake. It was easy to figure out which trains I needed to take, and I was able to get an Opal card from the concierge at my hotel. However, it’s easy to get one of these reloadable transportation cards at the stations.
Each train station has a big square with the wheelchair symbol painted on the ground on the platform so the train attendants know that you need assistance. They will bring out a ramp for you to board the train, and ask you which station you’re going to so they can radio ahead and have them prepared for you to disembark. At each stop I had absolutely no difficulty getting on and off the train, and the train attendants were very kind and helpful. I had to use the restroom at the transfer station, and I was so surprised and pleased to see they had a completely separate bathroom for people in wheelchairs. It was clean, and most importantly large and very easy to maneuver in.
Once I arrived at Sydney Olympic Park, it was a short roll across the street to ANZ Stadium. I bought my ticket for the tour, and since I had two hours to kill before it started, I rolled down the street to the Aquatic Center where Australian swimming legends like Ian Thorpe and many others practiced and competed for medals in 2000. The center was absolutely packed with people. Half of it is still primed for competition, and there was a swim meet going on when I walked in. On the other side of the center is a huge water park where there must’ve been hundreds of kids going down water slides and just swimming and frolicking with their families. I took several pictures and had a quick lunch at the café, then I headed over to a long hallway that had displays on the walls about the history of the center and of Australia’s swimming program.
I then headed back to ANZ Stadium for my fully wheelchair accessible tour. We went to every level and learned about how the stadium was constructed, how it was configured for the Olympics, and how it is currently being used. The terrain was pretty well-worn, and it is used regularly by both football and rugby clubs, as well as for concerts and other events typical for any other stadium. We were also able to go inside the locker rooms, the journalists’ suite, and some of the luxury suites as well. Of course, I had to make the requisite stop at the gift shop, where I bought a jersey for Russell Crowe’s rugby club, the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Outside the stadium, I was able to roll through a beautiful display of this forest of tall metal pols, some of which were very colorful. Each pole had dozens of names engraved on it, and I soon learned that these were the names of all the volunteers who helped during the Sydney Olympics.
I made one more restroom stop before getting on the train for the return ride to downtown, and once again I was pleasantly surprised to see that just a regular public restroom out on the street had a totally separate stall just for wheelchair users! This is why I believe Sydney is one of the most wheelchair friendly cities in the world. If you get a chance to pass through here, definitely take the time to roll out to Sydney’s beautiful Olympic Park!