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Tickets, tours still available for ’00 Games

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Time, something that many Olympic athletes compete against, has turned out to be a friend to Americans thinking of going to the Summer Games in Sydney next month. Those who have waited before buying package tours to the Games, which officially open Sept. 15 and continue to Oct. 1, will find cheaper plans than were available several months ago — in some cases, the savings are about 50 percent.

At least one U.S. tour operator has cut prices on his premium packages by nearly half, while the main tour seller has come up with lower-priced packages to help fill rooms on Sydney's distant outskirts that might otherwise stay empty.

Cartan Tours, 800-818-1998, on the Web at www.cartan.com, the official distributor of Olympics tickets in this country, says that it has sold out all of its packages with accommodations in Sydney during the middle week of the three departures Cartan offers, but they are still for sale for the first and third weeks. Those packages — which include six nights' accommodations in a four-star hotel, daily breakfast, round-trip air fare from the West Coast and tickets to events on five days — start at around $6,850 a person, double occupancy.

Although Cartan has not trimmed the prices of these packages, Don Williams, vice president for sales and marketing, said that weak demand for hotel rooms in the Blue Mountains — about 90 minutes by train from the main Olympic site in Sydney — led the company to create one-week packages for $3,349 a person, double, available each week of the Games. "Because the properties were outside Sydney, people weren't responding to them," Williams said recently. "And these are properties we had secured and paid for."

As of mid-July, he said, Cartan had sold complete Olympic packages to 3,000 people and had filled tickets-only orders for another 7,000 customers. "We're still holding a good supply of tickets, but we have to supply the families of the American athletes," Williams said.

Trials to determine the American track and field team, for example, were going on as he spoke. But he added that the public could still buy tickets for most events except the opening ceremony, the gold-medal men's basketball game and most swimming finals. Prices range from about $35 for preliminaries in many sports to around $265 for finals.

Besides Cartan, the Sydney organizing committee's Web site www.olympics.com is also an outlet for ticket sales. Tickets bought on the Web must be picked up by the person who ordered them and only at a box office in Australia.

Although U.S. tour operators still have a good selection of rooms left, travelers who want to make all their own arrangements will have to be savvy hotel hunters. The best bet is the residential accommodation program run by the Ray White real estate agency, 61-2-9262-3700 or on the Web at www.esuperfan.com, the only such program sanctioned by the Sydney Olympic Committee. The simplest homes rent for $54 to $118 a night per bedroom, depending on location; the most luxurious are $139 and up per bedroom per night.

Fans who want to buy extra tickets once they arrive in Sydney should find many available, said Rachel Crowley, a spokeswoman in Los Angeles for the Australian Tourist Commission. "The organizers are expecting that approximately a million tickets will be available as the Games begin," she said in mid-July.

John O'Neill, the ticketing communications manager for the Games, said that some "super tickets," premium-priced tickets to the most popular events, may be released for sale later on. And big spenders can buy private boxes in the three main arenas.

Sometimes, last-minute ticket shopping can yield gold-medal results. Two weeks before the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., I was still able to buy a ticket for the game on the morning of the final day of the hockey tournament. Thinking that this game would determine the bronze medal winner — about the best shot anyone would give the U.S. team before the Games — I was satisfied. As it turned out, I did see the Americans play — and beat Finland to clinch the gold medal.