Carried aboriginal flag at Olympics to fulfil promise: Freeman
Mumbai: While displaying banners not recognised by the IOC is banned during the Olympics, for Australian sprinter Cathy Freeman it was to fulfil a promise she made to herself when she carried the aboriginal flag along
with national flag during victory lap at the Sydney Olympics.
"I had made a very big promise to myself when I was 16. Whenever I win a gold medal in the CWG, World Championships or in the Olympics I wanted to share my pride (with my community) by showing both the flags," said Freeman, who won the 400m race in the 2000 Games in 49.11 seconds, to become only the second Australian aboriginal Olympic champion.
The aboriginal flag, though recognised by Australia, is not recognised by the International Olympic Committee.
Aboriginals, have been the original inhabitants of the Australian continent.
Freeman, event ambassador of the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2011, said she was disappointed that her victory came in the absence of arch-rival Marie-Jose Perec of France, with whom her face-off had been much anticipated.
"It surely did take some wind out of my sails. It did deflate me. I thrived on competition all my career. When she withdrew I was disappointed. But after a break for a moment or two I was happy for her," said Freeman, who also lit the Olympic flame during the Sydney Games.
Asked about the highs of her career, Freeman remembered her performance in 1996 Atlanta Olympics, when she created an Australian record of 46.63 seconds in the 400m to bag the silver, while competing against Perec, who won the gold.
"Winning the Olympic medal was special, but winning the gold medal in the World Championship in 1997 and 1999 were great too. As a young woman, the experience gave me confidence, in the run up to the Sydney Olympics," she said. Besides, ensuring that she "earns enough to pay her
bills", Freeman is also involved in charity work through the `Cathy Freeman Foundation`, a `not-for-profit` organization established in 2007 with the aim of creating pathways to a brighter future for indigenous children.
"The foundation is a community of 5,000 indigenous people of Palm Island, in Queensland. It is still 15-minute fly from the rest of Australia, so the people do feel distant.
The community encourages everybody to be proud of their indigenous heritage," she said.
Freeman said the situation for the aboriginals have improved in Australia now, "though it remains to be seen if there would be another Cathy Freeman."
"I hope they are not following my footsteps and are creating their own foot-steps. I believe there is abundance of talent," she added.
Describing former Wimbledon champion Evonne Goolagang as her indigenous idol, Freeman said, the former World no 1 female tennis player raised the profile of the aboriginals in Australia.
"All Australians adore her (Goolagang). She was the first sportsperson to raise the profile of the indigenous people. All Australians embraced indigenous people through her."