NIGHTMARE ON QUEENS PARK ROAD
It’s been twenty years and the memory still haunts me. My responsibility as a volunteer and supervisor for the Men’s Cycling Road Race during the Sydney Olympics was to ensure safety for the cyclists and spectators. Before the start, I approached onlookers with dogs and asked them, respectfully, to hold their dogs when the peloton approached. My crew were in position along the kilometre stretch of Queens Park Rd, and I decided to patrol the base of the steep descent into the park, near Bethlehem Lane.
This was a vulnerable section where people jumped the barricades and crossed the road to enter the park. That section was a blind left-hand bend for the cyclists, after their steep descent from Victoria Street. The speed of the bunch, I calculated could easily reach 70km/hr or more.
Race radio announced the start. The crowd seven and eight deep lined the road. The sound of a squadron of news choppers swelled the crowd’s excitement. Then I went weak at the knees.
A small brown dog, a terrier, appeared out of nowhere and sat in the middle-of-the-road. My eyes could not believe the sight. I gasped in horror and yelled, ‘Whose dog is it?’ No one stepped forward. Local residents had responded well to the warning delivered to their letter boxes a week before the event. My approach to dog-owners before the race seemed successful. But now this! Unbelievable! Nightmare on Queens Park Road!
With no other choice, I straddled the barricade and slowly approached the dog who wanted to play. It ran in circles, tail wagging, enjoying the attention. The crowd loved the comedy and cheered me on. The sound of the approaching choppers positioned the peloton as minutes away. The nightmare of bikes and bodies flying in all directions became a terrifying reality. I pictured the front page photograph of the carnage with a caption, ‘Worst Crash in Cycling History,’ spread across the world’s newspapers. Millions watching live would witness a spectacle of horrific proportions. The more I chased this wretched mutt, the more it circled, barking, tail wagging.
Perspiration soaked my shirt and desperation intensified as the deafening roar of the choppers approached. I made a desperate lunge for the dog but now, well-practised it avoided capture. The crowd cheered and shouted encouragement.
I remembered a saying, ‘If what you’re doing isn’t working, do something different.’ Frustrated by my failure, I sat down in the middle-of-the-road. The dog stopped and sat. I reached out my hand, forced a smile and said, ‘Come on.’ Without hesitation the mutt trotted over and sat beside me. The sheer relief and pure joy of seizing the wretched pooch was so sweet. I sprinted to the barricade. Spectators laughed, cheered and applauded. Police bikes, sirens screaming arrived at the top of the hill, the peloton behind them. The chaotic roar of seven choppers and the powerful swirling downdraught, created the conditions of a mini-hurricane. My heart racing, frantic beyond any experience in memory, I spotted a tall bloke behind the crowd and said, ‘Catch.’ The peloton were merely seconds away.
My small canine ‘friend’ flew over the heads of the seven-deep crowd into his safe hands. I leapt over the barricade as the scream of police sirens passed, followed by the fast-moving, unified human mass – the powerful hum of man and machine.
The terror of that time remains with me.