I once spent $20,000 on the Olympics. Here's why

Jenna Price's Olympic tickets from Sydney 2000.

Jenna Price's Olympic tickets from Sydney 2000.

It's 4am on September 24, 2000 and my alarm goes off. It goes off again five minutes later.

We are off to the Olympics, with the best value tickets of all time. Ten bucks each. $50 for the entire family to watch world class rowing all day, free train travel thrown in.

Plenty of room for the kids to run up and down alongside the competitors, shouting "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!".  Plenty of time for me to also trudge up and back down, shouting "Oy, oy, oy!". Yes, there were posh seats at the rowing stadium in Penrith right near the finish line. But hell, that's what binoculars are for.

Cathy Freeman at the 2000 Olympics: "That night alone still makes me tingle," writes Jenna Price.

Cathy Freeman at the 2000 Olympics: "That night alone still makes me tingle," writes Jenna Price. Photo: Pat Scala

I was reminded of this day in our family's very lengthy Olympic Games history by Western Australian rower Alexandra Hagan, who probably would have lost her shit last night when she was asked to call a particular phone number after news emerged that the IOC had just banned Russian rowers.


As the ABC reported Wednesday morning, Hagan said: "We all called in to a hotline [last night] and the head of Rowing Australia said, 'It's happening, girls - pack your bags, you are going to Rio.'"

I am not your stereotypical sports nut. I am old, female, never been an athlete. But there is nothing I love better than watching fit people try their very best at doing something which looks impossible to me. Watching my children play club hockey (go Glebe!) was the best fun. There is absolutely no way I could run while holding a stick, shaping the path of a ball. Also, swimming. Yep. I can't actually do that thing. Not any way you would recognise.

Hurling yourself over a high bar? Yeah right. But there am I watching the high jump. The pole vault. Weightlifting? Insane. I can feel my intestines plop out with the effort of watching.

Running. Gymnastics. Water polo. I'm not fussy. Whatever is on the telly, I'll be there, glued.

Decades ago now, my dad, my little brother and I developed a passion for the Olympics. Dad was even less of a likely sports nut than me. But something about the Olympic Games made us all watch together. Dad is not around to ask, but I imagine that something which made the world look like countries could get on with each other was reassuring to a refugee.

So when Sydney was announced as the winner of the Olympic bid on September 24 at 4.27am, our family made a joint decision. One, the kids would have the day off school to walk around Darling Harbour to celebrate winning the bid; and two, we would save enough money to go to every single day of the Olympic Games in Sydney.

Turns out, we only made good on one-and-a-half of those decisions. Yep, they skipped school. Yep, they went to the Games every day. But we borrowed $20,000 to do that. Three kids under eight. Sydney mortgage. Completely nuts. We did it anyway.

For five people, $20,000 should go a really long way. But I knew this was at least my one shot at going to the Games. My kids might go on to visit all the corners of the world and watch every single sport, but this was it for me. So I set to stretch that money as far as I could. Went into the ballot for everything. Slept on the streets in the queue for tickets which went on sale from the office in Sydney's Broadway (and yes, I was first in the queue, with my own mattress, and visits from spouse and children bringing dinner and breakfast).

Entered every competition. Applied for free everything. Gate 4 Section H Mrs Macquarie's Point for the Women's Triathlon at 7am (free). At the end, we watched the blue line marathon just near our house. We were there. I had friends who thought the Olympics were just an imposition. Midway through, they were ringing me to ask for help in buying from scalpers.

By the time that bright blue spring arrived, we had those tickets for every single day. Judo. Gymnastics. RELAY FINALS! So much hockey. So much. If I could buy a five dollar ticket from a scalper, I did.

September 23, tennis at 11am; swimming at 3.30pm (my god, I've just looked at the tickets again. $455. Each. Crazy.), athletics at 6pm.

We couldn't get in to the stadium to watch Cathy Freeman win on September 25 (didn't win the tickets in the ballot, couldn't afford the scalpers), but my god we watched her on the big screen at Olympic Park with thousands of others. We all breathed in, held our breath, then started screaming, cheering. That night alone still makes me tingle.

Sydney felt, maybe was, a different place then. We loved each other, even strangers. We gave lifts to each other. There was a program where you could host the families and friends of athletes from other nations. So I bundled the kids into one room so we could have members of a Mongolian wrestling fan club in the other bedrooms. And fed the parents of a US runner. They were both 50cms taller than me.

For nearly a year, I wrote a column for the Canberra Times called 'A Thing for the Rings'. And despite everything I know about the Olympic Games - all the corruption, all the slavery, the exploitation, the drugs - somehow those rings transfix me. It's not just nationalism, it's the sheer amazery of what those bodies do.

From August 5, at just the cost of my monthly broadband, I'll go to Rio. Cheaper. Not quite as much fun.