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Cathy Freeman’s victory in the 400 metres at the 2000 Sydney Olympics was one of the most indelible moments in Olympic history. Her gold medal triumph provided one of the strongest memories for host country Australia, after she had been chosen to light the Olympic flame during the Opening Ceremony. This made her the only person to light the Olympic flame and go on to win a gold medal at the same Games. Her feat won her the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Award in 2001.
Ever since 1993, when it had been announced that Sydney would host the 2000 Olympic Games, Freeman had dreamed of something which few athletes have the opportunity to achieve - winning an Olympic gold medal in their own country. As reigning World Champion and with a good season prior to the Games, Freeman was the clear favourite for the 400 metres at Sydney. Her triumph on the track made a stirring visual image around the world as she raced to victory in her yellow and green hooded running suit.
Freeman, who is an Aboriginal Australian, is regarded as a role model for her people, and, by many in the non-Aboriginal community, as a symbol of national reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
At the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada, where she won the 200 metres and 400 metres, she created controversy by waving the Aboriginal flag as well as the Australian flag during her victory lap of the arena. But there was no such debate when she did the same after winning the gold medal at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Her cause had become much more widely accepted by then within her own country.
In her career Freeman won two World Championship gold medals in the 400 metres in Athens in 1997 and Seville in 1999. At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, she won the silver medal behind Marie-José Perec of France.
Freeman married Sandy Bodecker, a Nike executive, in 1999. After her success in Sydney she took an extended break from the track to nurse Bodecker through cancer. Returning to running in 2003, Freeman clearly struggled for form and motivation and she announced her retirement in July of that year.
In March 2006, she was one of the final runners in the Queen’s Baton Relay, bringing the baton into the Melbourne Cricket Ground at the Opening Ceremony of the 2006 Commonwealth Games.