Who can forget the moment that stopped our nation at the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics. Cathy Freeman, the hugely popular athlete, and favourite for the 400m championship, was cheered to victory by 110,000 spectators at Sydney Olympic Stadium, in what was a stunning performance. Coming from third place in the last 100 metres to take out the Olympic title, Freeman dropped to her knees, overcome with relief and pride. Her victory lap, draped in the Australian and Aboriginal flag is an image that has not lost any of it's potency and reminds us of the possibility of our nation coming together as one.
Freeman's influence on the Indigenous community, through her successes touched young and old and especially inspired the next generation of athletes.
Indigenous NBA star, Patty Mills spoke of Freeman's influence when he won his first NBA ring with San Antonia Spurs in 2014, telling The Australian, “I ran track, and my pet event was the 400 metres, and I wanted to be like Cathy Freeman,” he said. “The whole country was on Cathy’s back during that race. Everyone was clued in during that race seeing her cross the line and how she handled herself, not only on the track, but before and after, because she had so much pressure. My heritage and my culture and where I’m from mean the most to me, more than anything.”
Olympic champion athlete Sally Pearson remembers clearly being inspired by Freeman's run as a 13yr old.
"I remember in 2000 when Cathy Freeman won the 400m gold medal for Australia, from then on I was like: "I want that as well. How do I do that? How do I train to be the best athlete in the world?" Pearson also told The Australian.
"I didn't know what event I was going to do it in when I was 13 but it was a matter of knowing that was what I wanted and that I had to work hard for it."
Aboriginal soccer star Kyah Simon, who made her professional debut with the Central Coast Mariners and has since signed as a free agent with the Boston Breakers for the inaugural season of the National Women's Soccer League, says that her own dreams of success as an Aboriginal woman began on the day of Freeman's iconic race. Simon told the Sydney Morning Herald, "that’s how my dream began watching that 2000 Olympics and that’s really what inspired me. I think that just really resonated with me. I remember the race like it was yesterday,” said Simon.
The Cathy Freeman Foundation whose mission is to help Indigenous children and their families recognise the power of education and achieve their goals and dreams, has been a further source of inspiration to Simon.
It stems from the childhood hero that is Cathy Freeman, where I get my passion to give back to my community, especially the indigenous community and less fortunate people
Since it was established in 2007 the Cathy Freeman Foundation has improved education outcomes for Indigenous children around the country and continues the legacy of excellence that Freeman established when she made her dreams of glory come true through hard work and dedication.
Taliqua Clancy, the first Indigenous beach volleyball player to represent Australia, says that the power and importance of role models such as Freeman within the Indigenous community is invaluable.
“It’s so important for indigenous kids to have role models like Cathy, or (retired AFL great and former Australian of the Year) Adam Goodes, or any of our other indigenous sportspeople – and there are many – coming through; it’s so important to say, ‘See, look, we can do this, you can do this’.”
The moment of lighting the Olympic flame sparked many dreams in the hearts and spirit of the country and will continue to do so.
NITV and SBS are the official National NAIDOC Principal Media Partner and the official Education Partner. For information on how the network is celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander excellence go here.
NAIDOC Week 2020 runs 8 – 15 November. Stay connected by following #NAIDOC2020