News16 Jul 2003

Cathy Freeman retires


Cathy Freeman

Reigning Olympic and twice World 400m Champion (1997 and 1999) Cathy Freeman, the icon of Australian sport has announced her retirement. Mike Hurst (Daily and Sunday Telegraph) pays his own personal tribute and says adieu for the IAAF internet.

So long and adieu Cathy Freeman. Thanks for the ride. It's been fun. It's been fantastic.

We'll miss your golden presence on the track. In the end you decided to run for your life and maybe for the first time it's "cos you are free''. Free to make decisions for yourself. And I'd say you've made the right choice. At the end of the day, you ran out of reasons to race.

You were the most goal-oriented athlete I've ever seen wearing the green and gold and when there are no more goals to fulfil, when you've won every title, every gold medal available to you, then what's left to stoke your desire? Now we know the answer.

Cathy really had come to her decision to retire before Athletics Australia's head coach Keith Connor flew to London to elicit an answer from her late last night.

"We sat down and had a chat. Six weeks ago (after her dispirited loss at the Pre Classic in Eugene) she was obviously thinking 'will I, won't I?' All I've done is said 'we're going to make a decision on it today because I need an answer','' Connor said last night. "I said: 'If you are going to compete (in the 4x400m relay in Paris next month) I need to motivate people. If you're not, I need to get the other young ladies prepared to run without you.' I didn't want it to become an issue during the world championships.''

Connor paid tribute, as many others will, to Freeman, who has been the flying fortress of Australian track and field since the mid-1990s and our first strike option at the last two Olympic Games.

No athlete in history, with the possible exception of Jesse Owens who ran against racism at the 1936 Berlin Games, has carried more pressure to perform than Freeman did three years ago in Sydney.

No competitor in Olympic history had ever lit the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony and then gone on to win an individual event at the same Games until Freeman won her gold medal on September 25, 2000, a night described as the greatest in athletics history.

Connor said: "She has done what no other Australian has done which is take everything on her shoulders and deliver."

"Others have won Wimbledon or Olympic gold medals but they didn't have to take on the expectation of the whole nation.''

Her rise from the barefoot child who won her first race on a dry sandy river bed to that night in Sydney is a fairytale story. What an adventure she's had.

What joy she's provided so often for so many.

And what courage she has displayed, running her first victory lap with the Aboriginal flag in 1994 at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada, then carrying both the Aboriginal and Australian flags around the track after her Sydney gold medal.

In the end though it won't be the gold medals or records that I'll remember her for, but the seemingly effortless and unorthodox style of her running.

She was liberated on the track. Now she's liberated from it. It's been fun Cath. On behalf of all of us, goodbye, good luck and thanks.