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Cathy Freeman Gets Gold
400 METRES - FINAL - 20:05 1. Cathy Freeman (Aus) 49.77 2. Sandie Richards (Jam) 49.79 PB 3. Jearl Miles-Clark (USA) 49.90 4. Grit Breuer (Ger) 50.06 5. Falilat Ogunkoya (Ngr) 50.27 6. Helena Fuchsova (Cze) 50.66 7. Pauline Davis (Bah) 50.68 8. Tatyana Alekseyeva (Rus) 51.37Some foreign Reports :
TIMES OF LONDON
Yesterday, Cathy Freeman, that delightful Australian Aborigine, captivated the audience and claimed the women's 400 metres as if it were her birthright. The time, 49.77sec, may not have approached the 47.60sec of Marita Koch or the 47.99sec of Jarmilla Kratochvilova; but they were women of East European systems, Cathy Freeman is a woman exercising freedom of her own special variety.
After the victory, she curtsied impishly to the crowd, a crowd still only half filling this Olympic bowl. Perhaps, given that two million people have allegedly plugged into the IAAF Athens website, they are living in darkened rooms rather than coming into the bright sunlight.
Never mind, Freeman came home and, as she did in 1994 when capturing the Commonwealth title, she took the black, red and yellow Aboriginal flag in one hand, the Australian ensign in the other, and paraded with a joy that said: "I'm an athlete of my time, of my people, enjoy me."
Cathy Freeman, a fearless promoter of her fellow Aborigines, showed Australians Monday that supreme genius will overcome any amount of prejudice when she won the 400 meters world title.
The 24-year-old, who took the Olympic silver medal last year, said the significance of being the first Aborigine - Australia's indigenous population - to win gold in a major championship would not sink in for a while.
Freeman has never been afraid of showing her pride at being Aborigine. When she won the 400m Commonwealth Games gold medal she made a point of celebrating her wins with both the Australian and Aboriginal flags, despite heavy criticism from senior Australian Commonwealth Games official Arthur Tunstall.
"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," Freeman said. However, as her close friend and training partner Sandie Richards of Jamaica, the silver medallist Monday, explained, Freeman remains a target of prejudice despite her extraordinary talents.
"There was an appeal for nominations as to who should carry the flag at the opening ceremony in the 2000 Olympics to be held in Sydney and some people wrote in and said it shouldn't be Cathy as she shaved her head as a self promotion. They just can't see beyond their racial prejudices," Richards said.
Freeman, who wears the Aboriginal insignia on her spikes, also attracts a lot of press criticism in Australia which Richards said was hidden from her in the lead up to the championships.
"Nick Beadle (part-time coach) showed me the pieces but he thought it was better that Cathy not see them as it would only have upset her concentration, " Richards said.
Freeman, whose father Norman was a successful rugby league player, is not always so serious and likes to enjoy life as much as possible. "Cathy and I love to party and the only time we would argue is if we saw a cute looking guy!" Richards joked.
However, it was not partying but good causes that nearly cost Australia their first world champion when Freeman almost quit athletics after taking off two months at the end of the 1996 season to visit schools and meet children. "With my high profile I can have an impact on them. You make them smile and you make them happy," Freeman said.
Freeman's strengths according to Richards are her perfectionism and her strength of character and on Monday she showed both of those, and in doing so must surely have wiped away a little bit more of the prejudice she and her people have suffered from.
Cathy Freeman had good reason to carry two flags to celebrate her first world title Monday. She was representing two groups of Australians. The first Aboriginal to capture a world or Olympic track title, the 400-meter runner also has been carrying an anti-discrimination message for her people to be accepted in their own homeland. "I guess I drew strength from it. Being the first is always special. I'm so glad of what I am - Australian and Aboriginal. They're two and the same. "It gives me a special feeling," the 24-year-old Freeman said after her World Championship triumph. "I didn't have a lot of energy to carry the two flags, but I felt strong enough to hold the two." Freeman, silver medalist at last year's Olympics in Atlanta and double Commonwealth Games titlist in 1994, has openly used her successes on the track to campaign for Aboriginal rights. She said her victory in Athens was politically significant. "It was very important because it shows I can deal with the pressure ... the pressure put on me by outsiders," Freeman said. "It makes little children feel they have a chance when they see me, feel me, touch me. I take my role seriously as role model."
She won the world title by beating her close friend and training partner, Jamaica's Sandie Richards, and American former world titlist Jearl Miles-Clark. Richards said she was well aware of Freeman's crusade at home and the problems she encountered from the non-Aboriginals. "She's from Australia and they don't look up to the Aborigines," the Jamaican said. "There are a lot of prejudices against Cathy Freeman. "They're nominating people to carry the flag in 2000 (at the Sydney Olympics) and some people are questioning why she should be nominated, why does she have to shave her head to get attention and why she hasn't won any big races. "I held her before the race and told her she could to it even though I was in the race," Richards said. "I told her we could be 1-2."
Richards, Miles-Clark, Germany's Grit Breuer and Freeman appeared level as they hit the straight. The Australian kicked for home in lane one and held off a late charge by Richards, who overtook Miles-Clark in the final 20 minutes but couldn't catch her training partner. Freeman clocked 49.77 to edge Richards by .02. Miles-Clark took the bronze in 49.90 ahead of Breuer.