THE word iconic is chronically overused in the world of sport. But one such moment that few dispute was seminal has been brought back into the spotlight with a thrilling film documenting the event.

At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Cathy Freeman lit the Olympic flame at the Games’ Opening Ceremony, and then went on to win gold in the 400m in front of her home crowd.

Freeman timed her rise to prominence perfectly. Australia had little tradition of track-and-field stars, but by the time the Sydney Olympics rolled around, she was world No.1 and reigning world champion. She had barely lost a race in three years and went into the Games as heavy favourite.

Every Olympic Games has a poster boy or girl. Atlanta 1996 had Michael Johnson. London 2012 had Jessica Ennis. Tokyo 2020 has Naomi Osaka.

While the weight of pressure upon their shoulders was, or in Osaka’s case is, extreme, they carry no more than the sporting hopes of their respective countries.

Freeman, in contrast, was carrying those sporting hopes plus so much more.

As an Aboriginal woman, Freeman was, as she says herself, running not only for herself, but for her people. 

The hour-long documentary, “Freeman”, which was made to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of her Olympic win but has only just been released in the UK, charts her rise to the top, that iconic night at the Sydney Olympic Park and the wider context of what her victory meant for the Aboriginal people of Australia.

Running was Freeman’s  first love and she quickly showed her potential. However, almost as rapidly, the racism she and many like her had to face daily became apparent, with victory in a race as a 10-year-old not rewarded with the winner’s trophy because, she believes, she was black.

Her victory at the 1994 Commonwealth Games became surrounded by controversy after she celebrated with the Aboriginal, rather than the Australian, flag.

Away from the running track, she recalls being bewildered as a child as to why, when she smiled at some people, they refused to smile back.

She admitted she never felt on an equal footing with white people, until she set foot on a running track. “When I ran, that all changed,” she says of her feelings of inferiority.

As Freeman rose through the athletics’ rankings, she slowly but surely became the sweetheart of Australia and, more significantly, the face of the country’s Aboriginal people.

The Opening Ceremony of the Sydney Games was designed to address the nation’s past regarding the First Nation people and Freeman was duly chosen to light the Olympic flame. 

Such was the secrecy surrounding her role that night that even Freeman’s own mother didn’t know until, sitting in the stands, she spotted her walking towards the Olympic cauldron with the torch.

On the night of her final, as she sprinted to victory, in front of over 110,000 spectators wearing her recognisable full-body suit with hood, the commentator exclaimed: “Cathy has waited for this moment since ’96 [when she won Olympic silver], Australians have waited since ’64 [since their last Olympic 400m champion] and Aboriginal people have been waiting for this forever.”

It was observed, in the moment of Freemen’s victory, “what was sown in every child was priceless”, with her win proving that the sky was the limit for every Aboriginal child.

The documentary is a quite astonishing recounting of a night which every athletics’ fan, every Olympic fan and, most likely, every sports’ fan can recall.

The pressure Freeman was under that evening is unimaginable, even to the  majority of elite athletes.

For her to cope with that burden so comfortably is extraordinary, although the expression on her face as she crossed the line was one of shock and relief rather than joy, revealing the weight of expectation she had felt.

In the intervening two decades since, few moments have matched her winning run for significance.

This documentary chronicles the importance of the moment perfectly. And it proves to anyone who might doubt it that sport can mean so much more than just winning a race.


WITH a few athletics’ meets having already been held this year, Scotland’s top medal hopeful for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics made her first appearance of the year last week at a World Athletics Tour event in France.

Muir had a strong 2020 and what was so encouraging this week was the realisation she has picked up where she left off. A British indoor 1500m record of 3 minutes 59.58 seconds was an impressive start to the season, although the 27-year-old’s delight was perhaps tempered having finished six-and-a-half seconds behind Ethiopia’s Gudaf Tsegay, who set an indoor world record.

A lot can happen in six months and Muir is by no means a stick-on for a medal in Tokyo. But irrespective of whether or not she gets her hands on silverware this summer, her consistency in an event as competitive as the women’s 1500m over the past few years is remarkable.