Sport Stars: The Cultural Politics of Sporting Celebrity

By David L. Andrews; Steven J. Jackson | Go to book overview

16

CATHY FREEMAN

The quest for Australian identity

Toni Bruce and Christopher Hallinan

One thing I do know is that if Australia is the cool, happy-go-lucky and friendly country we all claim it to be, then Cathy Freeman's smile symbolises the personality, the strength and the beauty of its people in the most exquisite way.

(John Laws, influential public commentator, 1997, p. 35)

In 1990, a young female runner became the first Aboriginal athlete to win an athletics gold medal at the Commonwealth Games when she helped her team to the 4 x 100m relay title. Four years later, aged 21, Cathy Freeman romanced Australia with a solo gold medal in the Commonwealth Games 400m. But it was her victory gesture that rocketed her to national fame and ignited a passion for "Cathy" which continues unabated.

Rather than the usual approach of waving the official Australian flag, Freeman took the groundbreaking step of first draping herself in the unmistakable yellow, red and black of the Aboriginal flag before also collecting the red, blue and white Australian flag for her traditional lap of honour around the stadium.

With that one action, conceived in the mind of a young Aboriginal woman born less than a decade after most Indigenous 1 people gained the right to vote, Freeman powerfully and visually demonstrated the joining of two key parts of Australia's psyche: the first inhabitants and the white settlers/invaders. 2 "Cathy Unites Nation" read one newspaper headline (McGregor, 1999, p. 170).

Freeman's victory lap irrevocably changed public perceptions of the Aboriginal flag. Rather than being associated with protest and political activism, Freeman linked the flag to nationalism and international success. Her actions, repeated when she also won the 200m, generated widespread discussion, even "controversy" (Given, 1995; Olympic hope, 1998, p. 2) and ensured that she and the Aboriginal flag would be forever linked in the minds of many Australians.

How much Australia has changed became clear in September 2000 when, following an opening ceremony featuring Indigenous culture, Freeman was chosen to light the Olympic cauldron on behalf of all Australians. When

-257-

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Sport Stars: The Cultural Politics of Sporting Celebrity
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • Bibliography 17
  • 1 - Michael Jordan 20
  • Bibliography 34
  • 2 - Excursions into Otherness 36
  • Notes 48
  • Bibliography 49
  • 3 - Andre Agassi and Generation X 51
  • Bibliography 68
  • 4 - America's New Son 70
  • 5 - From "Child's Play" to "Party Crasher" 87
  • Bibliography 99
  • 6 - Postmodern Blackness and the Celebrity Sports Star 102
  • 7 - Evil Genie or Pure Genius? 124
  • Notes 136
  • 8 - Punishment, Redemption and Celebration in the Popular Press 138
  • 9 - The Spectacle of a Heroic Life 151
  • 10 - Gretzky Nation 164
  • 11 - Hideo Nomo 187
  • 12 - Global Hingis 201
  • 13 - Nyandika Maiyoro and Kipchoge Keino 218
  • 14 - Imran Khan 231
  • 15 - Brian Lara 243
  • Notes 255
  • 16 - Cathy Freeman 257
  • Index 271
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