From the Grandstand by Col Hennessy


Well in this last week of September, all of us in the grandstand remember where we watched that epic race of Cathy Freeman twenty years ago as the finale of the Sydney Olympics.

I hope many of you also watched that equally gripping documentary of that race which was shown on the ABC a couple of weeks ago. It was simply titled ‘Freeman’ and it was the best ever sporting documentary I have watched. It will win some awards for sure. Not only was it brilliantly edited but the music, the dance scenes, the background, the voiceovers etc all combined to make it a success. So often documentaries of this type are just a highlights reel of races and interviews. Not so this one.

I saw Cathy run as a teenager in an all schools’ athletics carnival in Rockhampton when she represented Mackay schools in the CQ titles. She was spoken about even then as someone with exceptional talent. Unlike other teenagers though she was not the prima Dona so many were. They often treated it as a fashion parade with their choreographed warm up routines and catwalk style apparel sectionally removed. Not Cathy. She was just a giggling girl with her friends who loved company and loved racing. She won easily but my thought was always would she bother to go on with it or persue other interests as athletics never attracted the top athletes anyway.

There was so much pressure on her that night in Sydney. You could see the relief on her face when it was all over. She was the favourite. She had won 40 of her last 41 starts. She had the indigenous history behind her as well as the expectations of the sporting public.

The pressure of lighting the Olympic torch she had to keep from her mother and her manager was big enough. Then the added pressure of wearing that Nike suit for the first time. It was a gutsy move to do it. Long time rival French champion Perec had fled Sydney because she couldn’t handle the pressure of her comeback and Cathy had beaten her at their last race. Commentators had said the race was ‘hers to lose’. How’s that for pressure.

A few years before Cathy had combined the 200 and 400 metres gold medals at the Commonwealth Games but also combined for the first time the national and indigenous flags. She didn’t want any part of politics. She was never bitter about her grandfather’s war service not being recognised nor other family being ostracised to Palm Island. She deserved to be Australian of the year because she did so much to unite the nation. She never gets too political and is the same easy-going girl I saw that day in Rocky.

So, do yourself a favour and watch that episode. As Cathy herself said “It was a gift”. We should be grateful.