Cathy Freeman, who lit the cauldron at Stadium Australia 20 years ago and won the 400 metres gold, was unable to attend the morning ceremony at Sydney’s Olympic Park due to coronavirus restrictions.
In her place, two teenage athletes hand-picked by Freeman carried Sydney 2000 torches at the event.
Indigenous basketballer Tenayah Logan and Paralympian Tamsin Colley raised the torches as the cauldron lit up at Cathy Freeman Park.
“It was something quite monumental and I think we can all be very proud of the legacy that’s been left here in the physical sense,” Australian Olympic Committee boss John Coates told reporters.
“And we can be very proud of the legacy the Sydney Games left for our national sports federations, Olympic and Paralympic.”
Five-times Olympic champion swimmer Ian Thorpe said the Games had the potential to inspire “an entire generation of athletes” ahead of a potential bid for the 2032 Olympics in Queensland state.
“And when we look at the possibility of having a 2032 Olympics in Brisbane, young athletes, even people starting out in sport should be excited by that prospect,” he said.
Featuring Indigenous performers and quirky Australian cultural references, Sydney’s opening ceremony was widely acclaimed.
However, in the moments after Freeman lit the seven-tonne cauldron, hearts were in mouths across the nation.
Instead of gliding up a ramp to the top of the stadium, the cauldron shuddered to a halt as it began its journey before resuming after a few minutes to the enormous relief of organisers.
Coates, watching as chef de mission of the 2000 Australian delegation, knew something was amiss but was unsure what.
“I didn’t know what had gone wrong,” he said.
“In my own mind I was going: ‘Let’s leave the thing there, we’ll pretend that’s what was meant to happen, we’ll get it up the next day.’” Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford