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Monday, 25 September, 2000, 09:24 GMT 10:24 UK
Cathy comes home
Cathy Freeman
Cathy Freeman: Australia's first lady of the track
Cathy Freeman's success in the 400m is a reason for celebration for Australia's black community. BBC Sport's Jonathon Moore reports from Sydney.

Cathy Freeman's victory in the 400m may not have been a surprise - but it was a moment shared by the whole of Australia.

As the first aboriginal athlete to win an athletics Olympic gold, Freeman's success represents a triumph over diversity - and everyone loves her for it.

They love her toothy grin, "the smile on her dial" as Team Freeman member Maurie Plant describes it.

They love what the former Australian champion Raelene Boyle, calls her "beautiful vagueness" and "beautiful toughness".

They love her unusual mixture of shyness and confidence, her nervous giggle and the way she stood on her toes to kiss Marie-Jose Perec, after being beaten in Atlanta in 1996.

Added dimension

There is little doubt that Freeman is one of the most popular figures in the land and her Aboriginal roots give her an added dimension.

Freeman at the opening ceremony
Freeman lights up the opening ceremony in Stadium Australia
Indeed, Freeman's fight against the odds is a tale that dates back generations.

Her grandmother, Alice Sibley, was taken from her mother aged eight and moved to Palm Island, off the Queensland coast.

Her mother Ceclia was born on Palm Island and moved to Woorabinda - another Aboriginal mission west of Rockhampton. Freeman's father, Norman, was a brilliant footballer who battled alcoholism and died of a stroke aged 53. Her sister Anne-Marie also died young.

Asked not long before Anne-Marie's death why she ran, Freeman said: "I've got a sister who has cerebral palsy and I should make the best use of my arms and legs."

From an early age Freeman's drive to succeed proved phenomenal. At school, she was laughed out of class when she said her aim was "to win Olympic gold for Australia". Perhaps they felt a tinge of embarrassment on Monday evening.

Her presence as an Aboriginal icon cannot be underestimated. "She's our shining light," said Todd Condie, editor of Australia's Aboriginal newspaper, Koori Mail.

"Since the Commonwealth Games when she produced the Aboriginal flag, all black eyes have been focussed on her."

Condie has little doubt Freeman's success can only help the Aboriginal cause.

"She's doing things on a world stage that we've been attempting to do for a long time," he said.

"Even if she doesn't say anything, she's there. She is black and an Australian, so people start asking questions. And anything she does reflects on all of us."

Aboriginal success

Freeman may be the first to win Olympic gold - but she is not the first Aborigine to experience success.

Cathy Freeman in action
Freeman was always hot favourite for the 400m gold
At the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth, an apprentice butcher called Percy Hobson won gold in the high jump.

He cleared 6'11" at his third attempt, defeating the great "Chilla" Porter, a silver medallist from the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.

Hobson had such a talent for jumping, it is said he was coached by correspondence.

But that was then and this is now. Eighty-seven per cent of those surveyed rated the choice of Freeman to light the Olympic flame as "fantastic".

Yet whether her success will prompt political reconciliation is another matter. Condie, for one, is not holding his breath.

"This government has failed to grasp the opportunity on a number of occasions already," he said.

"If an apology came now, I don't think it would be well received."

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Queen Cathy
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See also:

25 Sep 00 |  Athletics-Track
Australia salutes its favourite daughter
25 Sep 00 |  Photo Gallery
Women's 400m final - in pictures
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