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2 days to Rio: Cathy Freeman runs the race of her life

The Melbourne Cup might be the race that stops the nation, but it doesn't have anything on Cathy Freeman's 400m final in 2000. (Image: AAP)
3rd August, 2016
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Sydney 2000 had plenty of great moments: a monumental wrestling upset, Eric the Eel stealing everyone’s heart and Australia recording a massive upset over the Americans in the pool. But none of them had anything on Cathy Freeman’s incredible performance on the track.

To say Freeman was sure of her goals would be an understatement. When she was just 14, she was asked what she wanted to do once school was over.

“I want to win gold medals at the Olympic Games,” was the reply.

What about after that?

“I don’t care.”

Of course, wanting to win gold medals is a far cry from actually standing atop the podium, and Freeman found it difficult to achieve her goal. She came close in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics, when she finished with a silver in the 400 metres race.

Sydney shaped as Freeman’s final chance to grab that elusive goal. She had already been firmly in the public eye after lighting the cauldron during the opening ceremony, but when the 400m final rolled around 11 nights later, the attention was tenfold.

Freeman had been the beneficiary of the withdrawal of Marie-José Pérec, her only genuine rival over 400 metres. But the Frenchwoman’s absence only heightened the pressure on Freeman. She had to win, right?

At the start of the final, it didn’t look likely. As over 110,000 spectators at Stadium Australia collective held their breath, Freeman struggled out of the blocks. She was in the running no doubt, but certainly wasn’t a sure-fire winner.

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But as the runners rounded the final turn, Freeman lifted. Riding the wave of support from the home crowd, she surged into the lead. As the finish line drew closer, her lead only grew until there was no doubt: she was an Olympic champion.

Sixteen years on, it’s still a spine-tingling moment, and is arguably Australia’s finest in Olympic history.

Be sure to follow The Roar as we look back on some of the most memorable moments in Olympic history – be they weird and wacky or brilliant and significant – and count down the days until the Rio Olympics opening ceremony.

The Roar’s countdown to the Rio Olympics

50 days to go: Australia’s first Olympian, Edwin Flack
49 days to go: Brazil capitulate at the 2012 Olympics
48 days to go: Blood in the water during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics
47 days to go: Daniel Carroll, the man who won rugby gold with Australia and America
46 days to go: Margaret Abbott – the golfer who didn’t know she had won gold
45 days to go: Where did all the amateurs go?
44 days to go: Australia’s oarsome foursome
43 days to go: When Korea stood as one
42 Days to go: Oscar Swahn, the oldest Olympian
41 days to go: Edith Bosch – the Olympian not known for her medals
40 days to go: Jane Saville’s heartbreaking Sydney Olympics
39 days to go: Herb Elliot dominates in Rome 1960
38 days to go: Teofilo Stevenson, the boxer who might have beaten Ali
37 days to go: Betty Cuthbert steals the show in Melbourne
36 days to go: Jesse Owens’ heroic performance in Berlin
35 days to go: Eric the Eel steals Sydney’s heart
34 days to go: What happened to Cassius Clay’s gold medal?
33 days to go: Australia’s equestrian brilliance at Barcelona
32 days to go: The Olympic sports which are no longer with us
31 days to go: Debbie Flintoff-King wins on the line
30 days to go: The dominance of basketball’s Dream Team
29 days to go: Nadia Comenaci scores gymnastics’ first-ever perfect score
28 days to go: The man who stopped for a duck
27 days to go: The upset of the Sydney Olympics
26 days to go: Murray Rose’s scintilating Melbourne performance
25 days to go: Greg Louganis’ heroic comeback win
24 days to go: Fencing turns to duelling in Paris
23 days to go: Dawn Fraser’s flag-stealing shenanigans
22 days to go: The most prolific Olympic competitor
21 days to go: Duncan Armstrong’s underdog win in Seoul
20 days to go: Johnny Weissmuller: A brilliant swimmer and Hollywood actor
19 days to go: Majorie Jackson – the Lithgow Flash
18 days to go: Larisa Latynina, the most successful female Olympian
17 days to go: Dimitrios Loundras, the child who won an Olympic medal
16 days to go: Roy Jones Jr is robbed of an Olympic gold
15 days to go: Shane Gould’s superstar performance in Munich
14 days to go: The Kookaburras finally fly to the top of the world
13 days to go: Matthew Mitcham’s historic dive
12 days to go: Even Olympians are prone to the odd fail
11 days to go: Abebe Bikila wins the Olympic marathon running in bare feet
10 days to go: Track cycling’s greatest rivalry
9 days to go: Kieran Perkins’ gold medal from lane eight
8 days to go: Sally Pearson’s awesome run in London
7 days to go: Mark Spitz’ perfect seven gold medals in ’72
6 days to go: Usain Bolt torches the field in Beijing
5 days to go: Michael Klim and Ian Thorpe help smash America’s 4x100m world record like a guitar
4 days to go: Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ defiant black power salute
3 days to go: Michael Phelps – the best to ever grace the Olympics
2 days to go: Cathy Freeman delivers with the weight of a country on her back
1 day to go: Ian Thorpe – Australia’s finest Olympian