Cathy Freeman's World7 March 1997
Cathy Freeman doesn't want to be rich and famous and she doesn't much care for adulation, but family and relationships are all-important. Cathy Freeman knows it's hard to get good staff. She has a cook, cleaner, personal assistant, manager, coach, race program manager and an accountant. She also has four houses (including one in London) and a dog.
But the Olympic 400m silver medallist doesn't consider herself wealthy or famous. Nor does she want to be. What is important to the 24-year-old Freeman is family, relationships, then her career. "Money makes life easier but I don't want to be rich, not at all," Freeman said. "I don't want to be a celebrity either. As long as my family and loved ones are there, I'm happy. I'm strange like that but I think I have my priorities straight. I have always been family-orientated. My family has always come first. I have always found security and comfort in their arms. We love each other, support each other. They are there for me and I am there for them."
Freeman's life changed forever last year when she ran over the finish line at the Atlanta Olympic Stadium behind French Olympic and world champion Marie-Jose Perec in the 400m final. Freeman won a silver medal and the heart of Australia. Everyone wanted to know her, talk to her, grab a piece of her.
It became too fraught for Freeman and her 36-year-old boyfriend Nick Bideau who had been cook, cleaner, personal assistant, manager and mentor for about six years. Bideau and Freeman are now no longer together although he remains her manager and friend. "It was very hard some days," she said. "One time in Paris I ran a personal best time and I wanted to party but Nick had to work."
While there have been tears and rows they are still close, like an old married couple who finish each other's sentences, who groom each other to flick a fallen eyelash or straighten a collar, who chip in when one or the other disagrees with a stated view, who laugh easily and readily together.
During the course of the interview Freeman affectionately mothers Bideau. "Have you combed your hair this morning? Look at it, go look in the mirror, it is all sticking up," she says.
A sure sign there had been a major change in Freeman's life was when she cut her long hair off before Christmas. Now the proud owner of a short crop, Freeman has bravely vowed she'll never have long hair again. "I was going to shave it," she confessed. "It got to me. I thought stuff this and got it all cut off. It went in two parts. I got a bob first but it kept falling all over my face in the blocks. Then it was off, short. The main reason it was long was because my mother cut it short when I was little and I was trying to make up for that. It was also to make me feel more feminine. It was the sexuality thing. I have a friend who, if she has a bad hair day, it affects her whole mood because it is part of her sexuality, her confidence. I don't have that problem any more. I like looking feminine and I enjoy being a role model. I enjoy being a woman. It all comes down to having the confidence to be who you are."
There are days when Freeman feels like a tomboy and a dag but when she's in the public eye she likes the tailored look - long skirts and a jacket. Off the track she prefers to keep those famous legs hidden and she loathes short skirts. "I don't like people looking at me; I hate the attention," she said.
Being instantly recognisable, however, has had its rewards.
She's met the Dalai Lama and Bill Cosby, who said to give him a call sometime. But she turned down the chance to meet Princess Diana and America's first lady Hillary Clinton. "If I am going to meet them I want it to be under natural circumstances; I'm not interested if it can't be on a normal level," she said.
Six months after her Olympic triumph, Freeman is still coming to terms with being constantly in the public eye. She rarely ventures out on her own and prefers the company of friends to being on her own in public. She still gets taken aback when she is accosted by strangers who treat her like their best mate. "I don't know what to say," she said. "It is very flattering but I don't know how to deal with it sometimes". Freeman treasures her own space and is happily ensconced in a new townhouse in Richmond, an inner-city Melbourne suburb, which she bought last year and which she is sharing with Aboriginal 110m Olympic hurdler Kyle Vander-Kuyp.
The domestic tasks Bideau used to shoulder have been delegated to hired help who clean, cook and take care of business. "Nick tried to wear all those hats; he was going crazy," she said. Freeman's life has been organised so that all she has to worry about is training and competing. She rises most mornings around 7 o'clock and goes straight to training. Then it's home for breakfast and her part-time job at Australia Post. "I like being in the workforce; it keeps me grounded," she said. She likes to slip in an afternoon nap before heading off to the gym or the track again for another training session. She's home again by 7.30pm, eats a prepared dinner and climbs into bed around 11pm.
Not surprisingly, Freeman is no couch potato. She's not into television but prefers to read. She is currently devouring a book on Australian history but what she really wants is a set of encyclopaedias. Australia's most successful sprinter has a great thirst for knowledge and wants to take the encyclopaedias away with her on her next overseas training trip. "Isn't that weird?" she asked. She also loves listening to beautiful voices like the Three Tenors and she admires Madonna because the material girl isn't scared of what people think or say. "I don't agree with everything Madonna's done but she is fearless," she said.
Freeman admits that while her life is very comfortable she gets blase about the effort others make to keep it streamlined. She confesses that she is so used to people doing things for her she forgets she leads a privileged existence. So when she gets tired and grumpy and starts to complain, her mother, who works in welfare, gives her a reality check. "When I get too complacent and start to whinge and act like a spoiled brat, mum drags me out to work with her," she said. She shows me real problems like a quadriplegic who has been kicked out of his home and who has no family, who has been abandoned. It makes me realise how much of a bitch I can be sometimes the way I carry on. I'm so lucky. I have such a great support system. All I have to do is run."
Freeman's mother also tells her daughter that it is the responsibility of every woman to have children, a view Freeman doesn't fully share. For now, Freeman's life is running. "At this stage, my private life is taking a back seat," she said.