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Her high-profile victories raised the profile of indigenous peoples worldwide and made an indelible mark on women’s athletics.

Early promise

Catherine Astrid Salome Freeman was born on 16 February 1973 in Mackay, Queensland, Australia. The young Aborigine, known as Cathy, won her first gold medal at a school athletics championship when she was eight years old.


In 1993, Freeman was eliminated in the semi-finals of the World Championships. On the way back to Australia, she wrote on the back of an airsickness bag her goal for the 400m at the 1996 Olympic Games: “48.60 ATLANTA”. In fact, she ran a 48.63 to earn the silver medal and become the first Aborigine to earn a medal in an individual event.

Homecoming win

World Championship 400m wins in 1997 and 1999 made Cathy Freeman the favourite for the 2000 Sydney Games, where she was also given the honour of lighting the Olympic cauldron. Under pressure to perform well for her home crowd, she won a resounding victory in the 400m final – Australia’s 100th Olympic gold medal.

Inspiring unity

In July 2003, Cathy Freeman officially announced her retirement. As an Aborigine, she is regarded as a role model for her people, and also seen by many as a symbol of national reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.




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