Memorable moments: Freeman unites Australia

Rarely can an athlete have entered an Olympic Games under such intense pressure as Cathy Freeman in Sydney.

Eurosport

An Aboriginal Australian who had not lost a 400m race in two years, Freeman was a natural poster girl for the Games, and lit the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony.

Though the host nation thrived in the pool, the hooded Freeman was their only realistic track and field hope.

She was the emblem of a new, multi-cultural Australia, and a national hero. But with that status came expectation, and failure was not an option when she lined up for the final on 25 September in front of 112,000 people at the Olympic Stadium.

Freeman trained in England to escape the spotlight, and in the build-up the strain on her rival Marie-Jose Perec had become so great that the Frenchwoman pulled out, citing press intrusion. While removing a threat, Perec's withdrawal only increased the pressure on Freeman.

She did not disappoint. To a deafening roar, she outpaced Jamaica's Lorraine Graham and Britain's Katharine Merry to win a rapturously received gold medal.

Freeman held both the Australian and Aboriginal flags on her lap of honour - not strictly allowed under IOC rules, but nobody was going to deny the host nation's Olympic idol her moment in the sun.

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