Perched on the roof of Sydney's brand new Olympic Stadium, former Illawarra Mercury photographer Andy Zakeli knew he had just captured an iconic image.
September 25, marks 20 years to the day that Australia's golden girl Cathy Freeman won the 400m final at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Zakeli remembers the night as clearly as "if it was yesterday".
"Cathy's race is definitely the highlight of my career covering sporting events, and I have covered many major events here and overseas," he told the Mercury.
"There has been no noise to match the crowd that night, and I've covered Maradona, I've covered the EPL in England and I've covered State of Origin games.
"The crowd that night with Cathy, nothing comes close, nothing comes close to the noise they made that night in that stadium."
While the iconic image of Freeman doing her lap of honour will go down in Australian sporting history, it is not Zakeli's favourite image of the champion runner.
He also covered the opening ceremony and got the chance to get close to Freeman and take a photo of her holding the Olympic Torch aloft.
"There was also a photo of her with Olympic legends Dawn Fraser, Raelene Boyle and Betty Cuthbert which I really love," Zakeli said.
"Being so close to be able to take those photos was a real special moment for me but I'd have to say the race was still my biggest highlight.
"I was one of only two people allowed to be on the roof of the stadium to photograph Cathy from an aerial shot. It was special. I'll never forget that night."
But Zakeli almost didn't get the chance to cover the Olympics.
He was working overseas at the time and was content to stay there before receiving a call asking him to join the Fairfax photographic crew for the Sydney showpiece.
"I'm glad I did because it was a huge moment," Zakeli said. "The best of the best were in town in terms of athletes and journalists and photographers.
"I was working with essentially the best photographers in the world. I've always regarded the Australian sport photographers as the best in the world and they didn't miss a point, they were just unreal, what they were capturing was awesome."
Zakeli wasn't the only Mercury snapper Fairfax seconded.
Orlando Chiodo also joined the team to take photos of a number of sporting events, but mainly to cover the Australian men's and women's water polo teams.
Their Mercury colleague David Tease was also part of the Olympic team, working on the picture desk, where he sorted and chose photos for all Fairfax publications around the country.
Chiodo said the trio lived in demountables near the old Lidcombe Hospital, which Fairfax turned into its media village.
"It was a great experience but we worked our butts off," he said.
"It was nerve-racking, it was stressful but I wouldn't swap it for the world. I was only 32 years old when I covered the Olympics. The experience I got in those tough but enjoyable three weeks gave me a wealth of knowledge for the next 15 years of my career at the Mercury."
Chiodo had the "great privilege" of photographing America's basketball 'Dream Team' but his highlight was capturing the gold medal exploits of Australia's women's water polo team.
"That really brought a tear to my eye," he said.
"I covered all their games and training sessions. By the end of it I formed some good friendships with some of the girls. It was so good to be there and see them win."
For Shady Cosgrove, covering the Olympics was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The author and former Mercury journalist only wishes she had taken the time to enjoy the experience. But that was tough to do, as she was the only Fairfax reporter covering the fencing.
"I was Team Leader for the fencing coverage, but I was the only one on the team," Cosgrove said.
"There were 10 fencing gold medals, and Fairfax committed to covering every gold medal match so that meant my stories got a great run. It was intense - sometimes deadline was before the bout had finished and so I'd write both endings.
"The competition was fierce and I still remember the Italians up against the French for the gold medal men's team epee event. There were theatrics, mental stand-offs and tantrums."
Another Mercury staffer Keith Jackson (now retired) was on the Fairfax team covering beach volleyball at the Sydney Olympic Games.
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