Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Freeman, Johnson Heat Up in Athens Aborigine Makes Track History; Men;s 400-Meter Final Is Today

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Freeman, Johnson Heat Up in Athens Aborigine Makes Track History; Men;s 400-Meter Final Is Today

Article excerpt

Cathy Freeman made history, and Michael Johnson made amends.

Freeman, a 24-year-old Australian, became the first Aborigine to win a world or Olympic title by taking the women's 400 meters at the world championships on Monday night.

"Tonight, I will be a proud girl," Freeman said after her dramatic triumph and slow victory lap around Olympic Stadium with both the Australian and Aboriginal flags. "It gives me a special feeling. Being the first is always special.

"I'm so glad of what I am, Australian and Aboriginal. They're two and the same."

(The following additional text appeared in the Three Star edition:)

"It was very important because it shows I can deal with the pressure . . . the pressure put on me by outsiders," Freeman said. "It makes little children feel they have a chance when they see me, feel me, touch me. I take my role seriously as a role model."

(End of Three Star text)

Freeman has been campaigning throughout the world for Aborigine rights, so her victory took on great political significance.

Johnson likewise took his role seriously as the world's best 400-meter runner by winning his heat and advancing to tonight's final. A mistake Sunday in the preliminaries almost cost him a place in the semifinals.

"Yesterday, I was very disappointed in myself," the world and Olympic gold medalist said after high-fiving his three other American teammates who reached the final.

Freeman was not the only athlete to make history Monday night.

Llewellyn Herbert became the first South African to win a medal in the world championships, earning the silver in the men's 400-meter hurdles.

However, it was Freeman who was the most emotional. On the victory stand, she jumped in jubilation when her name was announced. After the Australian anthem, she broke into tears.

Running out of unfavorable Lane 1, Freeman held off a late charge from her training partner of the past three weeks, Sandie Richards of Jamaica, and won in 49.77 seconds. Richards was second, in a career-best 49.79.

(The following addtional text appeared in the Three Star edition only:)

Richards is well aware of Freeman's political battle.

"She's from Australia, and they don't look up to Aboriginals," Richards said. "There are a lot of prejudices against Cathy Freeman. She's trying to rise above them.

"They're nominating people to carry the flag in 2000 (at the Sydney Olympics), and some people are questioning why she should be nominated, why does she shave her head to get attention and why she hasn't won any big races."

(End of Three Star text)

Freeman, the first Aboriginal to represent Australia in the Olympics, won the silver medal last year, finishing behind Marie-Jose Perec of France. …

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