Cathy Freeman

Catherine Astrid Salome Freeman, OAM (born 16 February 1973) is an Australian former sprinter, who specialised in the 400 metres event. She would occasionally compete in other track events, but 400m was her main event. Her personal best of 48.63 currently ranks her as the eighth-fastest woman of all time, set while finishing second to Marie-José Pérec's number-three time at the 1996 Olympics. She became the Olympic champion for the women's 400 metres at the 2000 Summer Olympics, at which she lit the Olympic Flame.[2]

Cathy Freeman
Personal information
Full nameCatherine Astrid Salome Freeman
EthnicityIndigenous Australian
Born (1973-02-16) 16 February 1973
Mackay, Queensland, Australia
EducationKooralbyn International school
Fairholme College
Alma materUniversity of Melbourne
OccupationAustralian sprinter/runner
Height164 cm (5 ft 5 in)
Weight56 kg (8 st 11 lb)[1]
Spouse(s)Sandy Bodecker (1999–2003), James Murch (2009–present)
University teamUniversity of Melbourne
Coached byStep-father Bruce Barber, Mike Danila, Peter Fortune
Retired1 July 2003

Freeman was the first Australian Indigenous person to become a Commonwealth Games gold medallist at age 16 in 1990.[3] The year of 1994 was her breakthrough season. At the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Canada, Freeman won gold in both the 200 m and 400 m. She also won the silver medal in the 1996 Olympics and came first at the 1997 World Championships, in the 400 m event. In 1998, Freeman took a break from running due to injury. She returned from injury in form with a first place in the 400 m at the 1999 World Championships. She announced her retirement from athletics in 2003.

In 2007, she founded the Cathy Freeman Foundation.


Cathy Freeman began athletics at the age of 5. Her first coach was her stepfather, Bruce Barber. By her early teens she had a collection of regional and national titles, having competed in the 100 m, 200 m, high jump and long jump.

In 1987, Freeman moved on to Kooralbyn International School to be coached professionally by Romanian Mike Danila, who became her first coach and later a key influence throughout her career; he provided a strict training regime for the young athlete.[4][5][6]

In 1988, she was awarded a scholarship to an exclusive girls' school, Fairholme College[7] in Toowoomba. In a competition in 1989, Freeman ran 11.67s in the 100 metres and Danila began to think about entering her in the Commonwealth Games Trials in Sydney.

In 1990, Freeman was chosen as a member of Australia's 4 × 100 m relay team for the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand. The team won the gold medal, making Freeman the first-ever Aboriginal Commonwealth Games gold medallist, as well as one of the youngest, at 16 years old. She moved to Melbourne in 1990 after the Auckland Commonwealth Games. Shortly after moving to Melbourne, her manager Nic Bideau introduced Freeman to athletics coach Peter Fortune, who would become Freeman's coach for the rest of her career. She was then selected to represent Australia at the 1990 World Junior Championships in Athletics in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. There, she reached the semi-finals of the 100 m and placed fifth in the final of the 400 m.

Freeman competed in her second World Junior Championships in Seoul, South Korea. She competed only in the 200 m, winning the silver medal behind China's Hu Ling. Also in 1992 she travelled to her first Olympic Games, reaching the second round of her new specialty event; the 400 metres. At the 1993 World Championships in Athletics Freeman competed in the 200 m, reaching the semi-finals.

1994 was Freeman's breakthrough season, when she entered into the world's elite for the first time. Competing at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Canada, Freeman won gold in both the 200 m and 400 m. She also competed as a member of Australia's 4 × 100 m squad, winning the silver medal and as a member of the 4 × 400 m team, who finished first but were later disqualified. During the 1994 season, Freeman took 1.3 seconds from her 400 m personal best, achieving 50.04 seconds. She also set all-time personal bests in the 100 m (11.24) and 200 m (22.25).

Although a medal favourite at the 1995 World Championships in Athletics in Sweden, Freeman finished fourth. She also reached the semi-finals of the 200 m.

Freeman made more progress during the 1996 season, setting many personal bests and Australian records. By this stage, she was the biggest challenger to France's Marie-José Pérec at the 1996 Olympics. She eventually took the silver medal behind Pérec, in an Australian record of 48.63 seconds. This is still the sixth-fastest time ever and the second-fastest since the world record was set in Canberra, Australia, in 1985. Only Sanya Richards-Ross has come within a quarter of a second of Freeman's time since.[8] Pérec's winning time of 48.25 is the Olympic record and the third-fastest ever.

In 1997, Freeman won the 400 m at the World Championships in Athens, with a time of 49.77 seconds. Her only loss in the 400 m that season was in Oslo where she injured her foot.

Freeman took a break for the 1998 season, due to injury. Upon her return to the track in 1999, Freeman did not lose a single 400 m race, including at the World Championships.[9]

Freeman also lit the torch in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

Her winning streak continued into the 2000 season, despite Pérec's return to the track. Freeman was the home favourite for the 400 m title at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, where she was expected to face-off with rival Pérec. This showdown never happened, as Pérec left the Games after what she describes as harassment from strangers.[10] Freeman won the Olympic title in a time of 49.11 seconds, becoming only the second Australian Aboriginal Olympic champion (the first was Freeman's 4 × 400 teammate Nova Peris-Kneebone who won for field hockey four years earlier in Atlanta).[11] After the race, Freeman took a victory lap, carrying both the Aboriginal and Australian flags. This was despite the fact that unofficial flags are banned at the Olympic Games and the Aboriginal flag, while recognised as official in Australia, is not a national flag, nor recognised by the International Olympic Committee.[12][13] Freeman also made the final of the 200 m, coming sixth.[14] In honour of her gold medal win in Sydney, she represented Oceania in carrying the Olympic flag at the opening ceremonies of the next Olympics, in Salt Lake City, joining Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Africa), John Glenn (The Americas), Kazuyoshi Funaki (Asia), Lech Wałęsa (Europe), Jean-Michel Cousteau (Environment), Jean-Claude Killy (Sport), and Steven Spielberg (Culture).

Throughout her career, Freeman regularly competed in the Victorian Athletic League where she won two 400 m races at the Stawell Gift Carnival.[15] Freeman did not compete during the 2001 season. In 2002, she returned to the track to compete as a member of Australia's victorious 4 × 400 m relay team at the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

Freeman announced her retirement in 2003.[16]

Post-athletic career

Since retiring from athletics Freeman has become involved in a range of community and charitable activities. She was an Ambassador of the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation until 2012.[17]

Freeman was appointed as an Ambassador for Cottage by the Sea, alongside celebrity chef Curtis Stone and big-wave surfer Jeff Rowley. Freeman retired from her position as Patron after 10 years in 2014.[18]

Cathy Freeman Foundation

In 2007 Freeman founded the Cathy Freeman Foundation. The Foundation works with four remote Indigenous communities to close the gap in education between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian children,[19] by offering incentives for children to attend school.[20]

Personal life

Freeman was born in 1973 at Slade Point, Mackay, Queensland, to Norman Freeman and Cecelia. She and her brothers Gavin, Garth and Norman were raised there and in other parts of Queensland. She also had an older sister named Anne-Marie who was born in 1966 and died in 1990. Anne-Marie had cerebral palsy and spent much of her life in the Birribi care facility in Rockhampton.[21]

Freeman attended several schools including schools in Mackay and Coppabella but was mostly educated at Fairholme College in Toowoomba where she attended after winning a scholarship to board at the school.[22] Her parents divorced in 1978.[23]

Freeman has described how she has been influenced by early experiences with racism and also by her Baháʼí Faith.[21] Freeman was raised a Baháʼí, and says of her faith, "I'm not a devout Baha'i but I like the prayers and I appreciate their values about the equality of all human kind".[24][25]

Freeman's mother, Cecelia (née Sibley), was born in the Aboriginal community on Palm Island. Freeman's father, Norman Fisher,[23] moved to the Aboriginal community of Woorabinda in Central Queensland when Freeman was five years old.[22]

Freeman had a long-term romantic relationship with Nick Bideau, her manager, that ended in acrimony and legal wranglings over Freeman's endorsement earnings.[26][27] Freeman married Alexander "Sandy" Bodecker, a Nike executive and 20 years her senior, in 1999. After her success in Sydney she took an extended break from the track to nurse Bodecker through a bout of throat cancer between May–October 2002.[28] She announced their separation in February 2003.

Later that year, Freeman began dating Australian actor Joel Edgerton whom she had initially met at the 2002 TV Week Logies. Their relationship ended in early 2005.[29]

In October 2006 Freeman announced her engagement to Melbourne stockbroker James Murch.[30] They married at Spray Farm on the Bellarine Peninsula on 11 April 2009.[31] Freeman gave birth to her first child in 2011.[32]


She joined with actress Deborah Mailman on a road trip, a four-part television documentary series Going Bush (2006) where the pair set off on a journey from Broome to Arnhem Land spending time with Indigenous communities along the way.[33][34]

In 2008, Freeman participated in Who Do You Think You Are? and discovered that her mother was of Chinese and English heritage as well as Aboriginal. As a result of a 1917 Queensland policy that Aborigines could serve in the military if they had a European parent, her paternal great-grandfather, Frank Fisher served in the 11th Light Horse Regiment during World War I.[23][35]

On her right arm, the side closest to the spectators on an athletics track, she had the words "Cos I'm free" tattooed midway between her shoulder and elbow.[36]

Personal bests

Event Time Wind Place Date
100 m11.24+1.1Brisbane, Australia5 February 1994
200 m22.25+1.3Victoria, Canada26 August 1994
300 m36.42Mexico City, Mexico3 May 2003
400 m48.63Atlanta, United States29 July 1996

Competition record

International competitions

Year Competition Venue Position Event Notes
Representing  Australia
1990 Commonwealth Games Auckland, New Zealand 1st 4 × 100 m relay 43.87
World Junior Championships Plovdiv, Bulgaria 15th (sf) 100m 11.87 (wind: -1.3 m/s)
5th 200m 23.61 (wind: +1.3 m/s)
5th 4 × 100 m relay 45.01
1992 Summer Olympics Barcelona, Spain 7th 4 × 400 m relay 3:26.42
World Junior Championships Seoul, South Korea 2nd 200m 23.25 (wind: +0.3 m/s)
6th 4 × 400 m relay 3:36.28
1994 Commonwealth Games Victoria Canada 1st 200 m 22.25
1st 400 m 50.38
2nd 4 × 100 m relay 43.43
IAAF Grand Prix Final Paris, France 2nd 400 m 50.04
1995 World Championships Gothenburg, Sweden 4th 400 m 50.60
3rd 4 × 400 m relay 3:25.88
1996 Summer Olympics Atlanta, United States 2nd 400 m 48.63
IAAF Grand Prix Final Milan, Italy 1st 400 m 49.60
1997 World Championships Athens, Greece 1st 400 m 49.77
1999 World Championships Seville, Spain 1st 400 m 49.67
6th 4 × 400 m relay 3:28.04
World Indoor Championships Maebashi, Japan 2nd 4 × 400 m relay 3:26.87
2000 Summer Olympics Sydney, Australia 6th 200 m 22.53
1st 400 m 49.11
5th 4 × 400 m relay 3:23.81
2002 Commonwealth Games Manchester, Great Britain 1st 4 × 400 m relay 3:25.63

National championships

Year Competition Venue Position Event
1990 Australian Championships Melbourne, Australia 2nd 100 m
1990 Australian Championships Melbourne, Australia 1st 200 m
1991 Australian Championships Sydney, Australia 1st 200 m
1992 Australian Championships Adelaide, Australia 2nd 200 m
1992 Australian Championships Adelaide, Australia 3rd 400 m
1993 Australian Championships Queensland, Australia 2nd 200 m
1994 Australian Championships Sydney, Australia 1st 100 m
1994 Australian Championships Sydney, Australia 1st 200 m
1995 Australian Championships Sydney, Australia 2nd 200 m
1995 Australian Championships Sydney, Australia 1st 400 m
1996 Australian Championships Sydney, Australia 1st 100 m
1996 Australian Championships Sydney, Australia 1st 200 m
1997 Australian Championships Melbourne, Australia 2nd 200 m
1997 Australian Championships Melbourne, Australia 1st 400 m
1998 Australian Championships Melbourne, Australia 2nd Unknown
1999 Australian Championships Melbourne, Australia 1st 400 m
2000 Australian Championships Sydney, Australia 1st 200 m
2000 Australian Championships Sydney, Australia 1st 400 m
2003 Australian Championships Brisbane, Australia 1st 400 m

Circuit performances

Year Competition Venue Position Event
2000 Golden League 2000 – Exxon Mobil Bislett Games Oslo, Norway 1st 400 m
2000 Golden League 2000 – Herculis Zepter Monaco 1st 400 m
2000 Golden League 2000 – Meeting Gaz de France de Paris Paris, France 1st 200 m
2000 Golden League 2000 – Memorial Van Damme Brussels, Belgium 1st 400 m
2000 Grand Prix 2000 – Athletissima 2000 Lausanne, Switzerland 1st 400 m
2000 Grand Prix 2000 – CGU Classic Gateshead, Great Britain 1st 200 m
2000 Grand Prix 2000 – Melbourne Track Classic Melbourne, Australia 1st 400 m
2000 Grand Prix 2000 – Tsiklitiria Meeting Athens, Greece 1st 400 m



  1. "Cathy Freeman". Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
  2. TorchRelay – Photos: Cathy Freeman lights the Olympic Flame Archived 13 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine. The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad.
  3. John Ashdown (11 January 2012). "50 stunning Olympic moments No9: Cathy Freeman wins gold for Australia". The Guardian.
  4. Cathy Freeman: The athletic proud of Australia Archived 27 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  5. Sebastian Coe (14 January 2001). "Athletics: Making of a legend". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 21 April 2008.
  6. Eamonn Condon (27 May 2001). "Freeman, still on top of the world". The Electronic Telegraph. Retrieved 10 March 2008.
  7. "Cathy Freeman". 3 June 2015. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  8. "IAAF: 60 Metres - men - senior - indoor - 2018 -". Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  9. "Sorry, the page was not found". Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  10. "SYDNEY 2000; Perec Says Fear Overwhelmed Her". The New York Times. 29 September 2000. Retrieved 2 June 2012.
  11. Melbourne, National Foundation for Australian Women and The University of. "Peris, Nova Maree - Woman - The Australian Women's Register". Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  12. "Indigenous leaders want officials to drop ban on flags". The Age. 1 August 2012. Retrieved 2 May 2013.
  13. "Olympic flags rule sparks anger". BBC News. 5 August 2008. Retrieved 2 May 2013.
  14. Wallechinsky, David; Loucky, Jaime. The Complete Book of the Olympics. Aurum Press, 2008, p. 300.
  15. "Top Ten Trivia - Stawell Gift". Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  16. Johnson, Len (16 July 2003). "Cathy Freeman retires". The Age. Melbourne. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
  17. Australian Indigenous Education Foundation. Retrieved 16 July 2011.
  19. "Cathy Freeman Foundation - home". Cathy Freeman Foundation - home. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  20. "Cathy Freeman on finding meaning and success in life after sport". ABC News. 8 June 2017. Retrieved 8 June 2017.
  21. Cos I'm Free (AKA Cathy Freeman) Archived 13 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Transcript, Message Stick, ABC Television, 11 March 2006.
  22. Indigenous Australia: Catherine (Cathy) Freeman, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University website. Accessed 7 August 2017
  23. Catherine Freeman Who Do You Think You Are?. SBS One.
  24. The love and pain that inspire Cathy, Top athlete may journey from the winner's podium to the Academy Awards by Michael Dwyer, The Age, 9 March 2006
  25. Born to Run (extract) Archived 19 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine Chapter 1 Running Free, Penguin Group (Australia)
  26. Raelene Boyle (22 March 2006) " Bideau's methods are make or break". SMH
  27. Brendan Gallagher (24 June 2004). Cathy Freeman tells her story. The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group.
  28. Jacquelin Magnay (8 November 2002) Sandy beats cancer. The Sydney Morning Herald.
  29. (21 January 2005). Cathy and Joel split. The Age. The Age Company.
  30. Sheahan, Kate; Gullan, Scott (12 October 2006). "Cathy Freeman to wed again". Archived from the original on 15 September 2008. Retrieved 22 July 2008.
  31. "Sprinter Freeman walks down the aisle". 12 April 2009. Retrieved 12 April 2009.
  32. Nino Bucci (8 July 2011). Cathy Freeman gives birth. The Age. Fairfax Media.
  33. "Going Bush – Series 1". ABC Shop. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
  34. Going Bush on IMDb
  35. Cathy's family secrets – publisher: The Daily Telegraph (13 January 2008)
  36. Coulter, Michael (12 November 2006). "Sporting tattoos". The Age. Melbourne. Retrieved 21 February 2010.
  37. Lewis, Wendy (2010). Australians of the Year. Pier 9 Press. ISBN 978-1-74196-809-5.
  38. It's an Honour entry – Australian Sports Medal – 26 January 2001 Citation: World Champion 1997 and 1999, Commonwealth Champion 1994, VIS Award of Excellence 1997
  39. It's an Honour entry – Centenary Medal – 1 January 2001 Citation: For outstanding service through sport
  40. It's an Honour entry – Medal of the Order of Australia – 26 January 2001 Citation: For service to sport, particularly athletics
  41. "Olympic News - Official Source of Olympic News". 27 March 2018. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  42. "Catherine Freeman OAM". Sport Australia Hall of Fame. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  43. "Ms Catherine Freeman OAM". Queensland Sport Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 26 January 2014. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
  44. Bligh, Anna (10 June 2009). "PREMIER UNVEILS QUEENSLAND'S 150 ICONS". Queensland Government. Archived from the original on 24 May 2017. Retrieved 24 May 2017.

Further reading

  • Freeman, Cathy (2007) Born to Run Melbourne, Penguin Books Australia. ISBN 9780143302384
  • McGregor, A. (1998) Cathy Freeman; A Journey Just Begun. Milsons Point, Random House Australia. ISBN 0-09-183649-2
  • White, L. (2013) 'Cathy Freeman and Australia's Indigenous Heritage: A New Beginning for an Old Nation at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games', International Journal of Heritage Studies, Vol. 19, Issue 2, pp 153–170 (ISSN 1352-7258).
  • White, L. (2010) 'Gender, Race and Nation at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games: Mediated Images of Ian Thorpe and Cathy Freeman'. In L. K. Fuller (ed.) Sexual Sports Rhetoric: Global and Universal Contexts. New York: Peter Lang, pp 185–200 (ISBN 9781433105098).
  • White, L. (2008) 'One Athlete, One Nation, Two Flags: Cathy Freeman and Australia's Search for Aboriginal Reconciliation', Sporting Traditions, Vol. 25, Issue 2, pp 1–19 (ISSN 0813-2577).

Cathy Freeman

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Marion Jones
World Sportswoman of the Year
Succeeded by
Jennifer Capriati
Olympic Games
Preceded by
Midori Ito
Final Olympic torchbearer
Sydney 2000
Succeeded by
1980 USA Men's Ice Hockey Team
Preceded by
Muhammad Ali
Final Summer Olympic torchbearer
Sydney 2000
Succeeded by
Nikolaos Kaklamanakis
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