Legendary Australian sprinter Cathy Freeman has been unveiled as the sixth official ambassador of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games during a public event in Queensland’s capital Brisbane today.
The announcement was made by Gold Coast 2018 chairman Peter Beattie and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.
Freeman became a global household name following her historic 400 metres gold medal at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, four years after winning silver in Atlanta.
It is regarded as one of Australia’s most significant sporting achievements and an iconic Olympic moment.
Freeman was the first female Aboriginal athlete to win gold at a Commonwealth Games in 1990, claiming the women’s 4x100m title alongside Monique Dunstan, Kathy Sambell and Kerry Johnson in Auckland at the age of 16.
She announced herself as one of the world’s best in 1994 when she won gold in both the 200m and 400m at the Commonwealth Games in the Canadian city of Victoria.
Freeman caused a political storm in her home country when she took her 400m victory lap with the Aboriginal flag draped over her shoulders and then later added the Australian flag.
With her gesture, she received over 5,000 faxes of support, including one from then Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating.
But she was also met with heavy criticism from the late Arthur Tunstall, a senior Australian Commonwealth Games official at the time.
Freeman retired from international competition in 2003 and founded the Cathy Freeman Foundation four years later to help broaden horizons and inspire indigenous students to experience their full potential in school.
She has also played a mentor role for some of Australia’s best athletes, including 400m sprinter Morgan Mitchell.
Freeman is the sixth of a select group of high-profile figures who will assist the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation (GOLDOC) with the promotion of the Games to Australia and the rest of the world.
She joins three fellow Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) awardees - hurdles champion Sally Pearson, cycling legend Anna Meares and wheelchair racer Kurt Fearnley - as well as swimmer Cameron McEvoy and netball player Laura Geitz.
"The Commonwealth Games provided special moments for me as an athlete and to be involved in GC2018 as an ambassador at this time is exciting," Freeman said.
"With less than one year until the Games start, both athletes and spectators are getting excited.
"I know the excitement and pressures of competing in an Olympic Games on home soil.
"It was an amazing period in my life and Sydney 2000 was a special moment for sport in Australia and I can only imagine the Gold Coast will provide the similar experience for the current group of Australian athletes.
"I’m excited to join such a special group of athletes as a Gold Coast 2018 ambassador and spread the word about the Games.
"Australia has a long history of delivering successful major sporting events and the Gold Coast won’t be any different."
To mark the occasion, Freeman was presented with a commemorative surfboard - an iconic keepsake of the Gold Coast lifestyle.
Among those also in attendance today was GOLDOC chief executive Mark Peters and Minister for Education and Minister for Tourism, Major Events and the Commonwealth Games, Kate Jones.
They were joined by Lord Mayor of Brisbane Graham Quirk, Australian sprint sensation Riley Day and a large contingent of junior athletes.
"Cathy holds a special place in all Australian hearts; she embodies the Commonwealth spirit and is a welcome addition to the Gold Coast 2018 family," Beattie said.
"We have a great group of ambassadors spreading the Gold Coast 2018 message to fellow athletes and fans.
"To have another of Australia’s greatest sporting heroes on board Gold Coast 2018 is a glowing endorsement for the work being done to deliver a great Games."
Beattie said the appointment of Freeman as a Gold Coast 2018 ambassador comes at an important time for the Games, citing the end of the ticket request phase on Monday (May 22).
"I encourage fans all over Australia to request tickets for the best chance to secure their place at the biggest event Australia will see this decade."