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Sunday Age

Cathy comes home with the gold again

Author: Richard Hinds
Date: 27/08/1994
Words: 895
          Publication: THE SUNDAY AGE
Section: Sport
Page: 1
Victoria, Saturday.

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 - trotted behind.

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 children."

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 mother remarried.

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.

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.

 
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