Cathy Freeman

by Claudia Herrera Hudson

Olympics Hero, Cathy Freeman:
"I just wanted to show I am proud of who I am and where I come from."
Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

The bold tattoo on her right triceps reads: “Cos I’m Free.” Her running shoes sport the bright red, black and yellow of her beloved Australian Aboriginal flag as she races across finish lines and receives award upon award.

Cathy Freeman is proud of being a star athlete and prouder of being a native Australian.

As Australia’s first Aboriginal track and field athlete to represent Australia at the Olympics (in 1992), Cathy, born February 16, 1973, has broken boundaries no one believed possible in a country riddled with deep-rooted racism against its own natives.

Although her running career stats read like a page out of that of any historical world-class athlete, she has still been met with a mix of controversy and praise thanks to her unbridled overt passion towards her heritage.

In a both genuinely heartfelt and bold gesture, at the 1994 Commonwealth Games, Cathy took her victory lap with the Aboriginal flag draped over her shoulders and then later added the Australian flag. It was a public proclamation of Aborignal rights and a powerful political statement.

Photo courtesy of  Athletics Australia
Photo courtesy of Athletics Australia

Cathy told the New York Times, "The time will come when I can be more instrumental in politics and Aboriginal affairs. But now, I think I'm playing a big part doing what I'm doing."

Her proclamation of rights has brought both criticism and commendation from the Australian public and from key officials. With her 1994 gesture, she received over 5000 faxes of support following her victory lap, including one from then Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating. But she was also met with heavy criticism from Arthur Tunstall, senior Australian Commonwealth Games official.

She stills remains the object of prejudice despite her talent and the glory her awards bring to Australia. She attracts both press criticism and public disapproval for a cultural pride many feel should be kept undercover. There was even an appeal for nominations as to whom the flag-bearer should be at the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 games and some wrote in saying it shouldn’t be Cathy.

"I just wanted to show I am proud of who I am and where I come from. I would love to one day go out to the bush and spend time with the elders of my culture, and get back to my roots," she said.

The negative feedback does not appear to be discouraging her demonstrations of Aboriginal pride in any way. Following her 400-meter victory at the 1997 World Championships, she repeated her 1994 action.

Photo courtesy of  Athletics Australia
Photo courtesy of Athletics Australia

But in 1998, Cathy was named Australian of the Year, one of the biggest civilian honours in Australia. In 1990 she had been awarded Young Australian of the Year, making her the only person ever to be awarded both honors. Perhaps related, it was the Australian, not Aboriginal, flag she carried on her victory lap after retaining her title in the 1999 World Championships. She was later selected by Australia to light the Olympic Cauldron.

After lighting the torch, Cathy was quoted as saying "Much is made about me being an Aboriginal. This fact should be celebrated, not abused. I love where I come from, but I am not at the Olympics to be political. I don't think to myself that I've got to make this next move for the Aboriginal cause.” While some may take this as a hypocritical thought from someone thought to be a forerunner for Aboriginal rights, in reality it just proves that her actions are heartfelt, not planned. They are dictated from within without a thought to consequence, negative or positive.

Among a plethora of awards and commendations, Cathy has been named the 2000 Laureus Female Athlete of the Year, regarded as the sporting equivalent of an Oscar. She has represented Australia in 16 teams, at 5 World championships, 3 Olympics, 3 Commonwealths, 2 World Juniors, 2 World Indoors, and 1 World Cup. She has received 13 medals in International Competitions, 7 of which have been gold. She has set 9 Australian open records and is the Commonwealth 400m record holder. On the World All-time lists she sits 6th in the 400m and 13th in the 4x400m.

A fearless promoter of her Aboriginal culture, Cathy Freeman regularly proves to the world with her unbridled talent and boundless determination that natural skill and personal will can overcome any amount of prejudice.

Photo courtesy of Athletics Australia
Photo courtesy of Athletics Australia

Page created on 4/21/2014 10:05:26 PM

Last edited 3/22/2021 5:46:00 AM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Cool Running Australia - highlights the IAAF World Championships in 1997: Includes foreign reports and race results
Rediff - includes an article on Cathy's Sydney Olympic gold.

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