AS Christian Ryan prepared to walk into the opening ceremony in his debut Games on home soil, Australia's most famous Olympian, Cathy Freeman, stood beside him.
Ryan, 23 at the time, looked away for a split second as the Australian team, led by basketball legend Andrew Gaze as flag bearer, walked onto Stadium Australia and when he returned his gaze to Freeman she had disappeared.
It soon became apparent to the men's heavyweight coxed eight rowing team member where the eventual 400-metre Olympic champion had disappeared to.
"All of sudden I couldn't see her and others couldn't see her and no one knew what was going to happen and then the next thing she is standing up there lighting the Olympic flame," he said.
#onthisday 15 Sep 2000 was the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games.— Athletics Australia (@AthsAust) September 14, 2018
▶️The Olympic Flame was lit by @CathyFreeman who would go on to win the 400m
▶️10647 athletes from 200 countries competed in 34 sports
▶️The @AUSOlympicTeam numbered 617 athletes#thisisathleticspic.twitter.com/QNu5ePlMuw
The historic moment is a memory which has stuck with Ryan over the past 20 years and he reminisced on it on Sunday night when watching the premier of the ABC documentary Freeman.
The documentary kicked off the 20-year anniversary of Australia's second and last Olympic Games and it gave Ryan, now 43, a chance to look back on his experience at the XXVII Olympiad.
Ryan, a Warrnambool export, was one of three south-west athletes to compete in Sydney.
Cyclist Michelle Ferris and Taekwondo athlete Lisa O'Keefe, also from Warrnambool, were part of the Australian team as well.
It was the only time Ryan and O'Keefe appeared at an Olympics while Ferris was participating in her second after representing the region and her country at Atlanta four years earlier.
O'Keefe, 27 at the time, would finish unplaced in the middleweight (57-67kg) division.
As for Ryan and Ferris, it would turn out to be a successful Olympics with both taking home silver medals, albeit with some disappointment of just missing out on gold.
Ferris, 23 at the time, claimed her second consecutive silver medal at an Olympic Games, after finishing second in the women's sprint at Atlanta.
At Sydney, Ferris' sprint, the stronger of her two events, didn't go to plan as she finished just shy of a bronze but she scored a spot in the final race of the women's 500-metre time trial.
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She would finish behind Frenchwoman Félicia Ballanger, the opponent who beat her in the sprint four years earlier, in the race against the clock at Dunc Gray Velodrome.
"I felt the best I had felt," Ferris told The Standard of her preparations for Sydney 2000 as she stood in the same velodrome she graced 20 years ago coaching the next batch of Olympic stars.
"Certainly with eight years of training coming together, it should have been a great experience and all I got was a silver medal.
"The event I was training for (the women's sprint) I put all my heart and soul into and it didn't go to plan earlier on which didn't seed me well and that was disappointing.
"It just didn't happen on the day and I had regrets and wondered why it didn't come together but that is racing and stuff happens.
"Reflecting on my career and the achievements in my career, I am still super happy and never expected to be in that position.
"I had a great career and can't really be too unhappy with how it (Sydney 2000) turned out. It was still the best games ever and I got a medal."
Ryan and the Australian heavyweight coxed eight team, which was one of the favourites heading into the event, claimed silver after being beaten by Great Britain.
They fought back from a poor start to finish within a breath of Australia's first Olympic gold medal in the men's eight competition.
Occupying the bow seat, Ryan was the first Australian across the finish line in the silver medal position as the home crew made a late but unsuccessful charge at the Brits, the crew it had beaten in the heats six days earlier in a faster time.
The Australians were mowing down the leader in the final stages of the 2000-metre race at Penrith, crossing the line a third of a boat length adrift after trailing the British by 3.59 seconds with 500 metres to row.
The final margin equated to 8-10ths of a second, leaving the favoured Australian crew slumped in their seats as the Great Britain crew embraced nearby.
Ryan and his teammates entered the final with high expectations and despite fighting back from fifth place at the 500-metre mark, their joy at equalling Australia's best men's eight result at an Olympic Games was offset by an unfulfilled golden ambition, which still sticks with Ryan today.
"We had a pretty good preparation heading in and the basis of the crew we had had been together for two years, which was a fair a time working together," he recalls of the run in to the event.
"We had few crew changes and had a good core that had been together for a while and had raced overseas and in Australia for a while before going to Sydney.
"At the end of the day the Great Britain crew that beat us they were marginally better.
"I still reflect on it. We went in that confident we were going to win and it still hurts that we didn't but as time goes on you don't really worry as much as you can't do anything about it.
"All you can do from a sporting point of view is help the next generation by providing advice and guidance."
Ryan's silver medal now sits proudly on a shelf in his Geelong home and is brought down to show to any visitors who wish to look at it.
"I lost it there for a while and found it in one of my old suitcases," he said.
"I had lost it for years and I was cleaning out the house and there it was.
"I haven't hung it up and some people every now and then have a look at it. Rather than having it in a frame and leave it around it is accessible."
Ferris' two Olympic medals and a number of others from her decorated career sit in her bedside table.
The suit she wore to a silver medal and the Olympic torch she carried through her hometown of Warrnambool is framed and takes pride of place in her home in Sydney.
The duo both said it was surreal to be celebrating 20 years since their similar but vastly different experiences at the first Games of the New Millennium.
Ferris' favourite memory is the support she received as she chased her dreams of Olympic glory.
"Having my entire family - my parents, brother, sister and grandma - and seeing them in the crowd was a special time for me," she said.
"I remember the Aussie crowds who helped us achieve so much and hearing the 'Aussie, Aussie, Aussie' chant is something I will never ever forget.
"Then there was times when I was walking through Sydney near Circular Quay and the Opera House and being recognised was also a special time."
The Cycling Australia Hall of Fame member's second opening ceremony experience was a little more subdued than Ryan's first.
"I was watching at the village as my first event was starting the next day and we weren't allowed to go to it," she recalls.
"A bunch of us were watching it on TV before heading off to bed. There was a few of us sitting in village and it still was a cool experience.
"I got to do it at Atlanta and we obviously partied hard for the closing ceremony (in Sydney) which was still pretty good."
Ryan said he could feel the energy of his home town and the country even from "half-a-world away".
"I remember the papers regularly reporting on my progress and the number of people who came to rowing event from Warrnambool was fantastic," he said.
"Many of the people who attended the Olympics enjoyed the experience and it added to mine.
"That was reflected on Cathy with Australians really getting behind the whole event and number of people going to see the event and supporting all of us was fantastic.
"It makes you reflect on the current COVID environment where there is so much negativity around. The Olympics was a positive two weeks in everyone's life.
"It was two weeks where everyone forgot about their worries in the world and got together in this aligned purpose to have a great time. There is not many times you get to see that these days.
"Sport can do that that and the Olympics is the great thing that can align people from no matter where you are from."
Twenty years on from their own experiences, the duo is still heavily involved in their chosen sports, helping guide the next generation of Olympians in their aims of securing Olympic glory.
Ferris is mentoring cyclists in the New South Wales Institute of Sport's track program.
Ryan is the president of the Melbourne University Rowing Club and is helping mentor some of its members prepare for 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, which was postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, the pandemic has not diminished the reunion spirit of the pair with Ryan and his eights teammates, who last caught up in London, jumping on Zoom to celebrate their medal win.
As for Ferris she will be on hand in Sydney for a socially distanced breakfast being hosted at Sydney's Olympic Park.
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