Freeman's famous gold at Sydney Olympics

Cathy Freeman fulfilled her sporting destiny by winning 400m gold at the Sydney Olympics.
Cathy Freeman fulfilled her sporting destiny by winning 400m gold at the Sydney Olympics.

Cathy Freeman licked her lips.

Which was apt, as her nation had been metaphorically licking its lips for years, waiting for this.

Now, the time had come. Time for the women's 400m final at the Sydney Olympics. September 25, 2000.

Freeman entered the stadium in her zone. Steely eyes. Focused. Licking her dry lips.

She felt alone. The noise of the 112,000-strong crowd wasn't registering, more a dull throb in the back of her head.

But she also felt, in her words, "protected".

"My ancestors were the first people to walk on this land," Freeman recalled in a documentary screened this month.

"It's a really powerful force.

"Those other girls were always going to have to come up against, you know, my ancestors."

The stadium, and most of the nation, held its collective breath before the starter's gun fired.

"Over the first 30 metres and it's a case of doing exactly what I know I need to do," Freeman recalled.

"I'm feeling sharp. I'm not having a lot of contact on the ground. My body is feeling amazing."

Settling into her long stride, down the back straight, rounding the bend, then winding up in the last 80 metres.

"Nobody's making a move. I'm waiting, I'm waiting for that challenge," she said.

"Lorraine (Jamaican Lorraine Graham) looks like she's actually in the lead, I can feel that she doesn't think that she can win this race. Not this one, not tonight.

"This is my moment, 80 metres to go."

Then, the dull throb of the crowd becomes a raucous reality.

"For the first time I feel the stadium, I feel the people, I feel their energy, I feel like I'm being carried," she said.

She crosses the line some 0.47 seconds ahead of Graham - it seems like an eternity.

"I'm airborne across the line I think to myself for the first time, so this is what it feels like to be an Olympic champion," Freeman said.

"I can't even hear a thing except just this incredible, dense, thick, impenetrable energy and noise, that is almost too much to bear."

Freeman, who 10 days earlier had lit the Olympic cauldron, sat down on the track for minutes as the enormity sunk in.

Then, a joyous victory lap, waving both the Australian and Aboriginal flags.

"The emotion on everybody's faces made me feel so good," she said in her autobiography.

""Little ol' me had made all these people happy."

Australian Associated Press