Continuing a series featuring AW content from years gone by, here is our report of Cathy Freeman’s famous 400m victory on home soil at Sydney 2000
Edition: September 27, 2000
The race of all their lives
September 25, 2000
Forget about Sydney flu. Anyone entering Australia before these Games couldn’t avoid being bitten by a much stronger bug: Freeman fever. the Aboriginal icon, described in Australia as a mix between Princess Diana and David Beckham, had the pressure of a nation riding on her slim shoulders.
She did not disappoint. When the gun went for the 400m final the 110,000 capacity stadium roared in expectation and rose to their feet. Australia had waited four years for this moment.
Freeman had waited her whole life. Now it would be decided in a little under 50 seconds.
Two Britons were among seven rivals threatening to spoil the party: Katharine Merry and Donna Fraser. If they beat Freeman they would be lucky to get out of Australia alive. They knew this, but it didn’t stop them trying.
After suffering a lull in form during August, Merry was back to her best and charged away determinedly in lane three. Freeman was in lane six. Marie-Jose Perec may have fled the Games, but her look-a-like, the infinitely more approachable and likeable Fraser, was in lane two.
La Gazelle L’Angleterre went off steadily, as did Merry. But all eyes were on Freeman who, clad in her Nike swift suit, was running with purpose and – amazingly under the circumstances – a cool head.
Into the home straight Freeman, Lorraine Graham of Jamaica and Merry were almost stride for stride. But then Freeman began to stride inexorably toward her destiny – an Olympic gold medal.
Agonisingly for Merry, Graham edged ahead and on to silver. Merry held on to bronze, ahead of Fraser, who finished like a train on her inside.
Freeman crossed the line and the clock read 49.11. Nobody cared about the time. The over-riding emotion for Freeman and Australia was that of relief. Nothing but relief.
“It was awesome!” said Merry. “Coming into the home straight it seemed the last 60 metres went in slow motion. I was just digging in. I am extremely proud of myself.
“I was trying to calm down and heard Linford (Christie) shout: ‘Christmas, Christmas!’ (her coach’s nickname for her) and that helped me relax. The atmosphere was incredible. Even the moths went into hiding it was so loud.”
Merry’s 49.72 was a lifetime best, was Fraser’s 49.79. The two Britons had bests of 50.05 and 50.85 before the Games. Now, surely, the British record of 49.43 held by Kathy Cook is in their sights. If the conditions had been a little kinder (warmer and less breezy) Cook’s 1984 mark could have been erased from the book.
“I wasn’t aware how fast it was,” said Fraser. “I am happy with the time but not the position. Fourth is always a difficult position. But I am so happy for Cathy,” added Fraser, who had trained with Freeman in the run-up to the Games.
Further down the field, Ana Guevara from Mexico ran 49.96 while Heide Seyerling clocked a South African record in sixth with 50.05.
On her lap of honour Freeman carried, as promised, the Australia and Aboriginal flag. Soon, the relief turned into jubilation as the accomplishment sank in.
A tearful Australian teenage girl, who was delivering results to media for the organisers, stood choked with emotion. “Wasn’t that just like nothing you have ever seen?” she said.
Or likely to ever see again.
Report by Jason Henderson who, with Chris Turner and Lucy Gibson and photographer Mark Shearman, delivered ‘on-the-whistle’ reports from magic Monday to AW colleagues in England due to the session falling bang on the magazine’s deadline.