STEVE Moneghetti sent Olympic shooter Russell Mark a thank-you note the other day. Moneghetti says he will never forget, nor fail to appreciate, the significance of the historic moment they shared before more than 15,000 people packed into City Oval on a cold July night.
Twenty-year commemorations for Sydney 2000 Olympic Games has Moneghetti feeling nostalgic. The Games were to be his last elite marathon representing Australia - exactly 20 years ago this coming Thursday - but it all started on that July night in Ballarat.
Ballarat-raised Mark, the double trap gold medallist from Atlanta, was set to light a mini-cauldron at City Oval at the end of the Olympic Torch relay leg through the region.
He unexpectedly invited Moneghetti, billed as Ballarat's favourite son, to share the moment with him. The Courier reported the crowd was excited and the gesture had tears flowing all round.
"It was such a selfless act," Moneghetti said. "We have a real friendship because of that. It made us a bond, friends for life, in something special we shared. This is an example where stories go far deeper than sport. They're the things sport can do well, the experiences."
Massive Ballarat crowds lined the city's torch relay route. The torch arrived late in the day and most of Ballarat's action was in the dark.
Up to this point, the Sydney Games had polarised the nation. The closer it got to the Games, the more the excitement grew and there was a mad rush for tickets.
Moneghetti said Ballarat had the history as one of three Olympic host cities, including Sydney, but for many people, the torch relay was the first time they had any exposure to the Olympics in their hometown. The flame made the Olympics tangible.
it's part of our DNA and Ballarat's DNA. We embraced the Games as a country - the Games were in Sydney but we were all custodians.Steve Moneghetti
"It was also quite unique in people saying Australia held the Olympics when it was really Sydney," Moneghetti said. "That doesn't happen for other nations, like compared to Atlanta in 1996 when other cities in the United States felt Atlanta was hosting the Games.
"I think it's part of our DNA and Ballarat's DNA. We embraced the Games as a country - the Games were in Sydney but we were all custodians."
The torch relay was very much a tilt to Ballarat's Olympic history as host for rowing in the 1956 Melbourne Games.
Rower Anthony Edwards, then an Olympic bronze medallist from Atlanta, rowed the flame from the Olympic rings to St Pats' Point. Edwards was reported in The Courier at the time to be "shaking like a leaf" before the row. Badminton player Peter Blackburn expressed similar nerves before his turn to carry the torch up Sturt Street.
"But carrying it across the lake, well, if that doesn't fire me up for the Olympic Games, nothing will," Edwards said at the time.
Edwards powered on to win silver in the lightweight men's four, his crew featuring Ballarat's Bob Richards, In Sydney.
Teacher Stephen McMahon had a seemingly long day at school, waiting for the final bell to signal his time to get ready.
McMahon met his fellow torch bearers in a central location, piling into a bus with the likes of Moneghetti, Edwards and the likes of Olympian Graeme "Gruffy" Crouch, and jockey Roy Higgins.
Basketball administrator Mark Valentine had the first leg. McMahon's moment was about 200 metres long from Victoria Street into Stawell Street.
"It was a pretty crazy day in Ballarat," McMahon said.
"There had been a lot of hype about whether the Sydney Olympics was a good or bad thing but a couple of months out, people realised it was going to be enormous. Once people realised how big it was going to be, a lot of people got caught up in it, including Ballarat. It was a once in a generation thing."
McMahon, a former national 3000-metre steeplechase champion, trained with Moneghetti, Lee Troop and Shane Nankervis. In 1999, he was named in the athletics Olympic shadow squad but his volunteer work with athletics and army cadets help earn him a torch spot.
Now a doctor, McMahon said in those moments he wondered what might have been had he stepped up his athletics. But he always had torch honours.
Moneghetti reflects on rare marathon moment
DECORATED marathon runner Steve Moneghetti arrived at the Sydney Games with fanfare for what was to be his final race representing Australia.
Not many people knew this was also Moneghetti's first marathon on home soil.
Those last 500 metres, you come up through the tunnel and hear the roar and I could just really enjoy my lap to the finish line.Steve Moneghetti
Moneghetti was the last Australian athlete picked for the Edinburgh 1986 Commonwealth Games and from that point every marathon he ran - Olympics, Commonwealth Games, big city marathons - were all overseas.
Atlanta shooting gold medallist Russell Mark called Moneghetti up to share cauldron lighting honours with him at City Oval in their hometown torch relay event. From there, Moneghetti savoured every moment.
Some seemingly little things became big moments. Moneghetti was in the stands next to Sandy Bodecker, Cathy Freeman's then-husband, on the night she powered to 400-metre gold. Earlier in the session, Moneghetti watched Tatiana Grigorieva high jumper capture a silver medal with a personal best.
While he has been to four Olympics as a athlete, Moneghetti said Andrew Gaze running about with the Australian flag made that opening ceremony particularly memorable.
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The men's marathon is traditionally the last day of Olympic competition. Moneghetti is often asked whether he minded, having to wait so long for his event.
In Sydney, Moneghetti felt Australian hype and momentum building.
This Thursday will mark 20 years since his moment.
It was emotional. I had all these people cheering, not just for me but all the Australians, and I had never experienced that before.Steve Moneghetti
"All my marathons had been overseas until that one. It was emotional. I had all these people cheering, not just for me but all the Australians, and I had never experienced that before.I had all my family in the stands, my mum and dad," Moneghetti said.
"I had a quite a good marathon and I had a really good back-end catching people and passing them. I got into the stadium and the guy in front was a bit ahead but the last guy I had passed, I knew was not going to overtake me.
"Those last 500 metres, you come up through the tunnel and hear the roar and I could just really enjoy my lap to the finish line."
Moneghetti placed 10th.
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