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One flag, one moment: How Cathy Freeman single-handedly became a symbol for Aboriginal reconciliation at the Olympics

A running force for nature.

By Jess Pullar
Ask any Australian and they'll tell you that the 2000 Sydney Olympics was a quintessential moment in the country's history.
But in the midst of its iconic moments (Nikki Webster, 58 medals, Ian Thorpe, the list goes on...) was one that should never be forgotten for a reason so much bigger than sport.
Cathy Freeman and her gold medal victory in the 400 metre race was a moment that will go down in modern history not only because of her physical prowess, but because the moment marked a movement - and not a moment too soon.
In 1994, Cathy, an Indigenous Australian, also won gold at the Commonwealth Games in Canada.
At the time, she decided to wrap the Aboriginal flag around herself whilst doing her victory lap.
Simple gesture, huge impact - the action highlighted the problematic story of the stolen generation - and single-handedly thrust her onto the world stage as a symbol for Aboriginal reconciliation.
Cathy did her 1994 Commonwealth Games victory lap with the Aboriginal flag wrapped around herself - a moment that symbolised a movement. (Tony Duffy/ Allsport / Getty)
That moment was propelled forwards when she won gold six years later at the Sydney Olympics.
The world watched as Cathy, a woman whose journey was in no way straightforward, became not only a symbol of success, but a symbol of hope for a new page in Australia as attitudes finally, finally began to shift towards its relationship with Indigenous people.
Cathy appeared on the cover of the October 2000 Australian Women's Weekly.
And 20 years on from that iconic moment, and Cathy is still coming to terms with what her symbol has meant in Australia's continued path towards reconciling its Indigenous relations.
She recently appeared in an ABC documentary Freeman, where she recalled the moment that changed everything for her.
"I feel like I am protected. My ancestors were the first to walk this land. It [is] a really powerful force. Those other girls [in the race] were always going to have to come up against my ancestors," she said.

Cathy Freeman's upbringing

While her success is indisputable now, Cathy's road to gold was in no way smooth sailing.
Her upbringing was filled with challenges. Her mother, Cecelia struggled to put enough food o the table for her, and her father, Norm, and her sister Anne-Marie were tragically taken from her long before her roaring sprinting success.
But her drive and passion to win an Olympic gold never wavered.
She is now happily married to husband James Murch, and has a daughter Ruby, who was born in 2011.
Speaking previously to Australian Women's Weekly, she said her great achievement was "my outlook on life, which is striving to make the most of who I am and what I've got, every day."
Looks like that's exactly how Cathy continues to live - there's certainly no arguing with that.
Cathy Freeman - forever an Australian icon. (Al Bello / Allsport / Getty)

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