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Freeman 'blown away' by Olympic honour

15 September 2010

After accepting the honour of lighting Sydney's Olympic flame, Cathy Freeman was humble enough to give organisers a get-out clause.

Australian Olympic Committee President John Coates recalled offering Freeman the star ceremonial role over dinner in a Los Angeles restaurant four months before the 2000 Games.

"After she had accepted, after she had responded to my concerns about the inevitable pressure ahead by telling me that she thrived on pressure, she sidled up to me as we were leaving the restaurant, and whispered something almost shyly," Mr Coates said.

" 'John,' " she said, " 'I'll understand if you change your mind'.

"At that moment, there was about her a sense of great innocence, even vulnerability.

"What she showed us at the Sydney Olympic Stadium, and on so many other arenas, was that she also possessed other attributes, most significantly the toughness, the steel, of a great champion."

Mr Coates was speaking at the unveiling of a plaque to Freeman at Sydney's Olympic Park on the 10th anniversary of the 2000 Games.

The 400m gold medallist said she was overwhelmed by the honour.

"I'm really deeply moved," she said. "I am feeling the love, and it's really quite amazing.

"It has blown me away."

Ms Freeman said one of the greatest outcomes of her Olympic success was the chance it gave her to help indigenous children through her Cathy Freeman Foundation, particularly in her home area of Palm Island in far north Queensland.

"I am super thrilled that my name allows certain doors to open, especially with government," she said.

She said the children she helped were not distracted by her Olympic fame.

"When we sit down in the class and start talking they can see I am exactly like them," she said.

Mr Coates said two of the most cherished memories of the Sydney Games related to Ms Freeman.

"She made us all so very proud as she lit that cauldron, then 11 nights later became the 100th gold medallist in our nation's history," he said.

"Her illustrious deeds as an Olympic and double world champion tend to belie the unassuming, very modest nature of this remarkable young woman."

The Cathy Freeman plaque was unveiled by NSW Premier Kristina Keneally.

Doug Conway,
Senior Correspondent

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