Cathy Freeman life and biography

Cathy Freeman picture, image, poster

Cathy Freeman biography

Date of birth : 1973-02-16
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Mackay, Queensland, Australia
Nationality : Australian
Category : Sports
Last modified : 2010-07-06
Credited as : track and filed athlete , ,

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Cathy Freeman (also known as: Catherine Freeman), born February 16, 1973 in Mackay, Queensland, Australia is an Australian track and field athlete.

Australian runner Cathy Freeman is the first Aborigine ever to compete in the Olympics, and the first to wave the Aboriginal flag at a sporting event. Freeman lit the Olympic flame at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, and won a gold medal in the 400 meters at those Games.

A Difficult Childhood

Freeman's grandmother was part of the "stolen generation" of Aboriginal people in Australia--from the early 20th century until the 1970s, many Aboriginal children were taken from their parents to be raised in state-run institutions. This practice was intended to remove the children from the poverty, disease, and addiction that plagued many aboriginal people, but it also resulted in tragically broken family ties and loss of ancient cultural traditions.

Although Freeman was not taken from her family, she had a difficult childhood. She was molested as a child, and both her younger sister and her father died.

When Freeman was still a girl, her talent in running was obvious. Her mother, Cecilia, encouraged her to pursue her interest in athletics, and when she was ten, her stepfather, Bruce Barber, told her she could win a gold medal at the Olympics if she trained properly. However, although she had the talent, she was also a member of a minority group that historically had not had access to the same resources that other athletes had. Freeman was one of only a few Aborigines who won a scholarship to a boarding school where she could learn and train.

At the age of 15, she competed at the National School Championships, and did well enough to be encouraged to try out for the 1990 Commonwealth Games team. She made the team as a sprinter, and was a member of the 4 x 100-meter relay team, which won gold at the Commonwealth Games.

In 1990, she competed in the Australian National Championships, winning the 200 meters, and then ran in the 100, 200, and 4 x 100-meter races at the World Junior Games in Bulgaria. During this time, she met Nick Bideau, an Australian track official who would later become her coach, manager, and boyfriend.

Competes in Barcelona Olympics

In 1992, she competed in the 400-meter relay at the Barcelona Olympics, making it to the second qualifying round. She also was a member of the 4 x 100 meter team, which ran in the final but did not win a medal.

At the World Junior Championships in 1992, she won a silver medal in the 200 meters. In 1993, she made it to the semifinals in the 200 meters in the World Championships.

In 1994, Freeman won the 200 meters and the 400 meters at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. After winning the 400 meters, Freeman ran her victory lap, carrying not the Australian national flag, but the red, black, and yellow Aboriginal flag. She was chastised in the press, and Australian team leader Arthur Tunstall told her she should not display the flag again. Freeman used the publicity she got to publicly discuss what the flag meant to Aboriginal people, explaining its symbolism: red for earth, yellow for sun, and black for skin.

Defying Tunstall's orders, she ran with the flag again after winning the 200 meters.

Wins Olympic Silver

At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Freeman won a silver medal in the 400 meters. After those Games, she broke off her romantic relationship with Bideau, although he continued as her manager. Freeman won the World Championships in the 400 meters in 1997 and 1998, even though she suffered a heel injury in 1998.

In 1999, Freeman met Alexander "Sandy" Bodecker, an American executive for the Nike shoe company, and the two fell in love. As a result, her relationship with Bideau became strained, and she eventually fired him. Freeman and Bodecker were married on September 19, 1999, in San Francisco. Bideau subsequently claimed that she owed him over $2 million in assets from deals he negotiated while he represented her, leading to a long court battle.

Wins Gold at the Sydney Olympics

Freeman was, of course, Australia's favorite to win a gold medal in the 400 meters at the 2000 Olympics, held in Sydney. Like any athlete, Freeman wanted to win in order to meet her own goals, but she also knew that she was viewed as a representative of the Aboriginal people, and she wanted to win for them. "I could feel the crowd all over me," she told Mark Shimabukuro in the Sporting News. "I felt the emotion being absorbed into every pore of my body." When she won, with a time of 49.11 seconds, she was so relieved that she dropped to her knees on the track after completing the race.

Freeman's shoes were yellow, black, and red, traditional Aboriginal colors, but after she won, she took them off and ran her victory lap barefoot, in traditional Aboriginal style, carrying both the Australian and Aboriginal flags around the track as the crowd cheered. According to Andrew Phillips in Maclean's, an Aboriginal observer said, "Cath's done it for all of us." This time, instead of being chastised for carrying the Aboriginal flag around the track, she was widely celebrated.

"All That Pain, It's Very Strong"

Freeman's win was hailed as an achievement for Australians and Aborigines, and was celebrated by a song, "Cos I'm Free," which became an Australian hit. The words are taken from a tattoo Freeman has on her right shoulder, signifying her pride in her Aboriginal heritage.

Freeman, like many of her country's 360,000 Aborigines, would like the Australian government to apologize for the abuses inflicted on her grandmother and others who were taken from their families as children. According to Phillips, she said of the government's refusal to do so, "All that pain, it's very strong, and generations have felt it. There's a sense of sadness and anger."

After her Olympic win, Freeman endured harassment by tabloid newspapers, a continuing court fight with Bideau regarding the disputed assets, and her husband's diagnosis with throat cancer. Regarding the constant scrutiny by tabloids and the often inaccurate stories they published about her, she told Brian Cazaneuve in Sports Illustrated, "I get so bloody tired of [hearing about] myself. Can't people focus on others who need [publicity] more than I?" She also said, "Public approval isn't important to me. Caring for my husband is."

In 2001, Freeman was voted Sportswoman of the Year by the Laureus Sports Foundation. Because of her husband's illness, Freeman announced that she would not compete during the 2002 season, and observers speculated that she might retire from her sport. She did carry the Olympic flag into the stadium at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games. However, when Bodecker began undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatment, her friends encouraged her to keep herself busy by training. Bodecker also encouraged her, saying it would help him to see her compete.

Thus encouraged, Freeman returned to competition at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, held in Manchester, England, as a member of the 4 400-meter relay team. Although Freeman's lack of training meant that she was not running at her fastest, her team won by 1.1 seconds. In an article in the Melbourne, Australia Sunday Herald Sun, Freeman told a reporter that she planned to continue competing in 2003.


AWARDS

1990, Young Australian of the Year; 1991, Aboriginal Athlete of the Year; 1994, Gold medals, Commonwealth Games, 200 meters and 400 meters; 1996, Sets four Australian records in the 400 meters; silver medal, 400 meters, Atlanta Olympics; 1997-99, Wins 22 consecutive 400-meter finals, including two World Championships; 1998, Australian of the Year; 2000, Gold medal, 400 meters, Sydney Olympics; lights Olympic flame; 2001, ESPN Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award; 2001, Laureus Sportswoman of the Year; 2002, Gold medal, 4 x 400 meters, Commonwealth Games.

CHRONOLOGY

* 1973 Born in Mackay, Queensland, Australia
* 1988 First national meet at Australian Schools Competition
* 1990 Competes in Commonwealth Games
* 1992 Competes in Barcelona Olympics
* 1994 Conmpetes in Commonwealth Games
* 1996 Competes in Atlanta Olympics
* 1999 Marries Alexander Bodecker
* 2000 Competes in Sydney Olympics
* 2002 Competes in Commonwealth Games

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