the world knows. Three
weeks ago, not many people outside of Australia knew Cathy Freeman. Her first exposure came during the opening ceremony of the
2000 Olympic Games. The
Olympic flame was passed to Freeman and along with it, the hopes for
the future of Australia.
You see, Cathy Freeman is an Aborigine in a nation that in many respects is only beginning to deal with its blemished past. When she first sought to identify with her heritage by carrying the aboriginal flag after a victory four years ago, she was criticized by those who would rather not deal with the specter of government abuse doled out along racial lines. Freeman’s own grandmother was a member of Australia’s stolen generation, so named because at an early age, she was stripped from her natural family and given to a white family, in accordance with Australian public policy. But to Freeman, acknowledging her heritage was natural. She smiled and told the people of Australia, “This is who I am.”
a few minutes after her final sprint to the 400-meter gold medal, the
hope for Australia, and for the Olympic games, seemed bright. For these games, which have been maligned for low TV ratings,
the inclusion of certain events (trampoline), and everything in
between—Freeman’s boost couldn’t have come at a better time.
Ditto for her country. Even
before the games, and her lighting of the Olympic flame, Freeman’s
warm-heartedness had managed to win over the majority of Australians.
She ran a victory lap with the Australian and aboriginal flags
intertwined (as if to gently highlight her earlier point) to the
delight of 110,000 spectators in Sydney’s Stadium Australia.
last half of this century coincided with an international system in
which west and east battled for global hegemony.
The fields of play, especially the Olympic games, were forums
where the United States and the Soviet Union, went toe-to-toe for
national, and even ideological, pride.
But even outside of the US-USSR rivalry, the Olympics are a
stage where political and social ideas have added to the drama.
The first monumental marriage of the modern era was Jesse
Owens’ wonderfully insulting victories in Hitler’s Berlin.
Cathy Freeman’s 49.11 seconds of adulation is added to this
lore. Just a few years
ago, the thought of someone doing all the things Freeman has done to
bring attention to her people seemed improbable.
even the news that American track star Marion Jones’ husband, C.J.
Hunter, has failed four drug tests during the summer could distract
from Freeman’s achievement. The
beauty of sport has long undergone assault from every corner.
Most harmful is the damage done from athletes themselves—Hunter’s
drug test failure just being another example.
Athletes have increasingly needed everything from attitude
adjustments to jail time. The
Olympics specifically have suffered, mostly from scandal within the
organization and drug use among its participants.
Much of Freeman’s greatness comes from quiet determination and an uplifting attitude. A lesser citizen-athlete would have approached the spotlight from an entirely different perspective. Charles Barkley’s rants, Michael Irvin’s arrogance, and O.J. Simpson’s audacity may spark commentary and social criticism, but Freeman’s soft-spoken determination, the shades of Jackie Robinson and Arthur Ashe, make a much bolder, harder-to-ignore statement.
can learn much from Cathy Freeman, what she represents, in sport, and
in life. “Sport is this
great arena for drama and it’s a reflection of life,” she said
after her performance. In
sport, and in life, Cathy Freeman is true to herself.
She is unapologetic, even if she wasn’t pompous, about what
she stood for. She knew what she had to do and who she was.
And now, the world knows, too.
© Mario H. Lopez, 2000
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View expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Political USA.