In front of 112,524 expectant fans Cathy Freeman, Australia’s only hope of an athletics gold medal at the 2000 Games, in that space-age hooded bodysuit, puffs out her cheeks and prepares for the biggest race of her life.
Freeman’s path to that start line had been a long one and her journey came to be seen as symbolic of the Aboriginal people’s journey from persecuted natives to Australian equals. She became the icon of national unity. “She has come to symbolise the painless reconciliation between black and white,” said David Rowe, professor of media and cultural studies and Australia’s University of Newcastle, at the time. “She stands for the Sydney Olympics.”
Freeman was the home favourite for the 400 m title at the 2000 Olympicsin Sydney, where she was expected to face-off with rival Pérec. This showdown never happened, as Pérec left the Games after what she describes as harassment from strangers. Freeman won the Olympic title in a time of 49.11 seconds, becoming only the second Australian Aboriginal Olympic champion.
After the race, Freeman took a victory lap, carrying both the Aboriginal and Australian flags. This was despite the fact that unofficial flags are banned at the Olympic Games and the Aboriginal flag, while recognised as official in Australia, is not a national flag, nor recognised by the International Olympic Committee.
Her feats in the 400m and to a lesser degree the 200m will live long in the memory. The 100m PB came back in 1994 as a 21 year old and stands at a respectable 11.24s.