Twenty Years After Cathy Freeman’s Iconic Win, People Are Sharing Their Memories Of That Moment

"This moment as a young Indigenous woman made me believe absolutely anything was possible."

cathy freeman

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Twenty years ago, Australia held its breath as Cathy Freeman hit the home straight in the 400m at the Sydney Olympics. As the she crossed the finish line — the first Aboriginal person to win Olympic gold in an individual event — the stadium, and the country, erupted.

It’s a moment that is still seared onto the national psyche.

Last night Australia got to relive this historic win through a new ABC documentary FREEMAN, which celebrated her incredible achievement. It looked at not only her sporting success, but the weight she carried for First Nations people and the impact of sport on our national identity.

Freeman’s victory lap was an iconic moment for Australians nationwide, but it was transcendent for Indigenous Australians in particular. Months earlier, around 250,000 people had marched over the Sydney Harbour Bridge to fight for reconciliation, at a time when the federal government refused to apologise to the Stolen Generation. As that political debate raged on, Aboriginal Australians got to watch an Olympic champion wave their flag in front of an international audience.

It’s a moment people can still remember like it was yesterday, 20 years later, and to celebrate the release of the documentary people are now sharing what it meant to them.

The 2000 Olympics wasn’t the first time Cathy had proudly carried the Aboriginal flag on an international stage.

In 1990, when she was only 16, Cathy became the first Aboriginal Commonwealth Games medallist. She was quickly being recognised as one of Australia’s best sprinters, and a role model for Indigenous Australians.

That’s what prompted her to drape herself in the Aboriginal flag after winning gold in the 400m at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Canada. The move outraged Australia’s Chef de Mission for the Commonwealth Games at the time, Arthur Tunstall, who threatened to send her home. A defiant Cathy ignored him, and carried it again after winning the 200m.

When asked about the uproar she responded by saying, “With all due respect, I don’t care. I’m just here to run”.

Cathy was a role model to all Australians, but her victory in Sydney transcended a 400m race.

You can check out the FREEMAN documentary here, or relive Cathy’s iconic race below.

Feature Image: ABC iView