WHEN Cathy Freeman carried the Aboriginal flag on her lap of honor after
winning the Commonwealth Games 400 metres title on Tuesday, her motives were
questioned. Of course, Freeman, a political innocent, did not have a motive. She
merely had a reason.
After her brilliant victory in the 200 metres yesterday, Freeman was asked
why it was so important to wave the Aboriginal flag. ``Because I know that when
Aboriginal people look at that flag they feel good about themselves," she
replied. ``If I can make a difference to how people feel about themselves, I'll
do whatever it takes."
Yesterday, Freeman, 21, made every Australian who watched her run, and the
celebration that followed, feel very proud. Still shaking her head in mild
disbelief, Freeman walked over to Tiffany Cherry, her training partner from
Melbourne, and took both the Australian and the Aboriginal flags in her hands.
On Tuesday, Freeman had been criticised for taking the Aboriginal flag a few
seconds before the Australian flag. This time, she was careful to take the flags
simultaneously. Such are the Machiavellian minds of her accusers, Freeman made
sure that no one thought she favored either flag.
Freeman then walked a gentle, breathless lap of the Centennial Stadium with
the Aboriginal and Australian flags joined together.
Waving the Aboriginal flag on Tuesday had been about pride. ``It's my
heritage," she said.
YESTERDAY's gesture was about unity. Perhaps there has been no more moving
symbol of black-and-white reconciliation than Freeman waving the flags above
her head, while another Australian - bronze medallist Melinda Gainsford -
It was certainly one of the great moments of the Games, a moment Arthur
Tunstall, the secretary-treasurer of the Commonwealth Games Association, and
several Australian politicians would have denied.
Tunstall issued a press release, saying that all Australians should march
under the one flag.
Freeman said she was aware of the criticisms about carrying the Aboriginal
flag, and they had upset her. ``It affected me a little bit, but I'm an
experienced athlete now. I feel so much stronger and I was just so focused, and
I did what I came here to do."
She also said, contrary to some reports, that she had not been told by
athletics officials not to wave the Aboriginal flag, and that she would not have
complied if she had been. ``No, absolutely not," said Freeman. ``I decided,
OK, I know what I really want to do and I've decided what I want to do and I'll
go out and do it."
Freeman has been inundated with messages of support since Tuesday.
``As a matter of fact, team managers, a lot of people, have said: `Look, do
it, wave both flags'. I've had a lot of support from back home. I've got a whole
suitcase full of faxes. I think the majority of Australians would think that I
was doing the right thing."
Australian officials have certainly fallen into line. The chief executive of
Athletics Australia, Neil King, said he had sought clarification of Tunstall's
statement that countries could wave only one flag, and found that it meant only
one flag on official flagpoles, and that Freeman had waved the flag with the
blessing of track-and- field management.
``She is not a radical, she is not someone who pushes the issue," said
King. ``She felt comfortable with it and she's always said that she appreciates
she can be a role model for young Aboriginal athletes, young Aboriginal
And, if they did not know before, all Australians are now aware that they
have another world-class athlete. Freeman yesterday became the first runner, man
or woman, to win the 200 and 400 metres double at a Commonwealth Games.
Her time, 22.25 seconds, was a personal best, and the fourth fastest in the
world this year, and stunned silver medallist Mary Onyali of Nigeria, who had
won the 100 metres. Freeman tracked Onyali on the bend and stormed from behind
to win. ``She did very good homework on me this time," said Onyali. ``Next
time, I'll be prepared."
Freeman now has the chance to win four gold medals, with the two relays to
run tomorrow. But her sights are set on the Olympic 400 metres in Atlanta, where
she could complete a story that began when Cathy Freeman was just eight and her
Her stepfather, Bruce Barber, encouraged Freeman to run. ``He told me when I
was 10 I could become a champion athlete and go to the Olympics one day," said
Freeman, who is from Mackay, won a scholarship to boarding school, and
finished her schooling on the Gold Coast. She now lives in Melbourne, where her
stepfather is her coach.
Her ambitions are now clear. ``This has given me the confidence to go on to
bigger things," she said.
Freeman's victory was the highlight of another outstanding day for Australia.
Tim Forsyth (high jump), Louise McPaul (javelin) and Werner Reiterer (discus)
all won gold medals in the main stadium.