Originally created 10/02/00

Locals enjoy Aussie hospitality



SYDNEY-When Cheryl Black decided to join the committee to host the Australian equestrian team when they trained in Aiken before the 1996 Olympics, she had no idea what she was getting into.

It has turned into an adventure that led her and her husband Steve to the Sydney Olympics to cheer on their Aussie friends.

"We've kept in very close touch with several members of the team," said Mrs. Black as the 2000 Games wound down Sunday. "We saw everybody over here that was in Atlanta."

The Australians had such a good time during the three weeks they were in Aiken they invited the Blacks to visit Australia for these Olympics. The Australians won the three-day equestrian event in Atlanta, and apparently they felt the preparation they were able to do in Aiken helped their performance.

The Blacks have visited Australia since the Atlanta Games, and when the Aussies asked if they would like to come for the Sydney Games they never hesitated. They have stayed in a house in Mt. White, north of Sydney for two weeks.

"This has been absolutely fabulous," said Mrs. Black. "We stayed at the house of the three-day event coach, with his brother's family and a Dutch family with the international equestrian federation. Being able to share a house with people from Australia for two weeks was fabulous.

"We would cheer for our teams and make fun of each other when their teams lost. With Inge and Hoogie swimming for the Dutch and the Australians doing so well, sometimes it got pretty intense during the swimming races. We had a lot of fun."

The presence of the Blacks might have had the desired effect on their hosts. Australia won the three-day event for their third straight gold medal. That's never happened before.

"We were thrilled for them," said Mrs. Black. "And the Olympics have been incredible. In a way it was better than Atlanta because of the home crowd for the Australians. The Americans did great, too. They won a bronze medal.

"They have treated us so well here. We walked around the venue. And the officials were much better about letting the athletes walk around and talk to people. We got to congratulate them first hand at the barn after they won."

It hasn't been all Olympics for the Blacks. They spent a few days in Cairns, on the northeast coast and on Sunday Mrs. Black was shopping in the popular Rocks area of downtown Sydney.

"We spent a day in Sydney with David Cooper, one of the show jump riders," said Mrs. Black. "He took us to Darling Harbour where they have a huge outdoor television screen where you can watch Olympic events. Centennial Park (in Atlanta) was fun, but this was bigger and even more fun."

So what's next? Will the Blacks follow their Aussie friends to Athens, Greece, for the 2004 Games?

"The Australians kept saying we might be drafted into going to Athens as they go for their fourth gold in a row," said Mrs. Black. "But I don't know if I want to go there or not.

"But we will be back in Australia in three years. My husband is in Rotary and their international convention is in Brisbane that year. So he's making plans to attend and I'll be with him."