Athletics: Freeman is anything but a free woman

Simon Turnbull hears why Seville is only a warm-up for Sydney

CATHY FREEMAN had just struck gold in the Estadio Olimpico. She could not, however, raise a smile to match the sparkle of the medal she was about to receive. "Right now," she said, "I'm just relieved. The pressure's off - for the moment. But this is nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to what I'll be going through next year."

Of all the athletes crowned as world champions in Seville these past 10 days, none will carry a greater burden away from Andalucia than the Australian winner of the women's 400m. Freeman needed no reminder of that as she sat by the banks of the Rio Guadalquivir on Friday morning. She got one anyway, though. "The Sydney Olympics are only 13 months away now..." her first questioner began. Freeman winced and rolled her eyes skyward.

If she had worn a vacant expression the night before, after resisting the late challenge of Anja Rucker to become the first woman successfully to defend the world 400m title, it was entirely understandable. Freeman has been in Seville only in body this week. In spirit she has been miles away - some 10,000 miles away. As she put it: "This is all a dress rehearsal for Sydney."

When Freeman returns to Australia, after her last race of the season in Rieti a week today, she will do so as the golden girl under pressure to come up with another golden run on home soil in the Olympics. Racing her rivals will be only half the battle. And coping with the weight of public expectation could be the more difficult half.

"I realise that the pressure is going to be tenfold in Sydney," Freeman said. "It's going to be much, much crazier. I knew if I couldn't deal with all the pressure here I certainly wouldn't be able to deal with it next year. That's why I was just really relieved last night. I was just glad that the whole thing was over.

"This is the first time I've gone into a championship at world level as the favourite and I've been torturing myself with worry. I ran really, really scared. I've never run that scared before, not even when I was running as a child with my brothers. Like I said, I know it's going to be 10 times this next year. I just hope I can handle the off-the-track stuff."

And Freeman is sure to have a lot to handle. At 26 she has been a national icon for five years now - since she won the 200m and 400m at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, becoming the first Aborigine athlete to win a major track and field title. The girl from a broken home in an impoverished Murri community in Mackay, north Queensland, was Australian of the Year in 1998, an honour bestowed upon her by the Prime Minister, John Howard, at the annual Australia Day ceremony. She will be carrying the hopes of the host nation on her well-defined shoulders when the Sydney Olympics open on 14 September 2000.

"The demands on Cathy next year will be huge," Brian Roe, the Australian team's media manager, said. "She's big news in Australia at all times anyway. She can't walk in the street without being stopped by everyone."

She can, though, in Hampton Hill. And it is in the Thames-side hamlet that Freeman is likely to be found in the summer build-up to Sydney 2000. Last year she bought a house in the London suburb and she intends to make use of it to escape what she calls "the pressure pot of my own country."

That pressure pot will hardly have been eased by Freeman's success in Seville. As she dug deep in the home straight, holding on grimly after pulling clear in that delightful skipping style of hers, she became the first Australian to win two world titles. Rob de Castella, winner of the marathon in Helsinki in 1983, is the only other Aussie athlete who has been on top of the World Championship podium.

On Friday morning the victory that brought the broadest smile to Freeman's face was not her own but that of her people. Her success in Seville just happened to coincide with a formal apology in the Australian Parliament in Canberra for 200 years of injustice suffered by the country's indigenous population. "I'm so happy," Freeman said. "It's such a significant moment for the indigenous community of Australia and for all Australians. It really means a lot."

Freeman's mother, Cecilia, was one of Australia's "stolen generation", as the Aborigine children separated from their families by government policy became known. It is little wonder Freeman flouted team regulations by taking an Aborigine flag on her victory laps at the 1994 Commonwealth Games and 1997 World Championships. She had no need to in Seville because the colours of the flag - "black for the people, red for the land and yellow for the sun" - are now displayed on her specially designed running shoes.

She also has a tattoo on her right arm bearing the legend "Cos I'm Free." A Freeman and a free woman she may well be, but Australia's golden girl has 13 months of imprisonment by public expectation ahead of her.

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?