Australians break world records in the pool and velodrome in super start to Comm Games
Cathy Freeman didn’t just star at the Sydney Olympics. She created the expectation each subsequent home games would provide a single event that distilled the spirit of the occasion into a magical moment.
It’s called — yes, OK, not a lot of time went into this — the Cathy Freeman Moment.
This was not the moment(s) at the Sydney 2000 opening ceremony when Freeman stood waiting for the cauldron to ignite for so long several polar ice caps melted.
At Gold Coast 2018, Peter Beattie did his best to recreate that pregnant pause while trying to extract the Queen’s message from the baton during the (surprisingly adequate) opening ceremony.
So long did Mr Beattie take to work out his thumb was in the way, it would have been quicker for Her Majesty to send a carrier pigeon.
No, the Cathy Freeman Moment was the one where she endured the crushing expectation of an entire nation by winning the 400 metres.
Cathy Freeman endured the crushing expectation of an entire nation by winning the 400 metres. (Dean Lewins: AAP)
In so doing, Freeman gave the Sydney Olympics a moment so richly symbolic some still believe they shouldn’t swing the wrecking balls at the misconfigured venue out of respect for her achievement.
At the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, the Cathy Freeman Moment was spontaneous rather than anticipated — 38-year-old mother-of-three Kerryn McCann winning the marathon before a packed MCG — an achievement even more poignant after her breast cancer diagnosis the following year.
So, who will provide the Cathy Freeman Moment at Gold Coast 2018?
No-brainer. Sally Pearson reprises her 2017 World Championship performance before a home crowd and celebrates in that typically unbridled fashion.
Sally Pearson won the gold medal in the women’s 100m hurdles final during the World Athletics Championships in London last year. (AP: Matthias Schrader)
OK, it wouldn’t be anything like the real, nation-stopping Cathy Freeman Moment.
The Commonwealth Games is struggling to maintain a toehold in the sporting consciousness and the symbolism of Freeman’s vast achievement in the most taxing circumstances was made even more poignant by her Indigenous heritage.
(Incidentally, sadly, symbolism is pretty much all Freeman’s moment provided, because as a Gold Coast 2018 opening ceremony replete with well-meaning Indigenous symbolism demonstrated, long after Freeman’s glorious lap, there remains a jarring disconnection between the celebration of white and Indigenous Australia on such occasions.)
Still, Pearson seemed like the ideal showstopper — right up until the moment it was announced the star hurdler had an Achilles injury that would allow her only to perform ceremonial duties with Prince Charles and his wife Camilla.
Cue the understandable cynicism of the international media who wondered whether the announcement of Pearson’s injury had been delayed as long as possible to cushion the blow the poster girl’s absence would have from the event.
And, undoubtedly, Pearson’s role as the final bearer of the Queen’s Baton at the opening ceremony would have seemed somewhat less engaging if we had known — as Pearson had for at least 24 hours — she would not competing.
Without Pearson, where does Gold Coast 2018 get its Cathy Freeman Moment?
When in doubt, head to the pool where Australia continues to dominate even in the era when English lottery money means the home team’s stranglehold on the medal tally has been weakened.
Cate Campbell’s quest to win the 100 metres final is the first stop on the road to redemption after the disappointment of Rio.
Like Pearson, she is a home state favourite.
She also competes in a blue riband event and, unlike many at these games, faces a world-class opponent in Canada’s Olympic champion Penny Oleksiak.
Freeman did not have to face her greatest rival because Marie-Jose Perec took flight and abandoned the Olympics.
Although, rather than being unfairly vilified as the Frenchwoman was, Oleksiak will be the source of considerable sympathy given her grandmother died on the eve of the games.
And if Campbell’s main swim does not prove Freemanesque?
Perhaps several swims could be melted into a single moment and make Emma McKeon’s chlorine-scented medal accumulation the centrepiece of Gold Coast 2018.
After the opening night, McKeon already has a gold medal as part of a world-record-breaking 4x100m relay team alongside Campbell.
Although, on the downside, McKeon and teammate Ariarne Titmus forced the commentators to use their “no, really, the Australian not winning is great!” voices when they were mauled by the Canadian Taylor Ruck in the 400m individual medley.
McKeon already has a gold medal as part of a world-record-breaking 4x100m relay team alongside Campbell. (AAP: Darren England)
At a time when the “kultcha” of Australian team sport is under the microscope, it might be fitting that a team rather than an individual provides the crowning moment on the Gold Coast.
In that regard, in combining high aspirations and cutting-edge techniques with a progressive team ethos, the Australian netballers now make Steve Smith’s (former) team look pub.
That the Australians are unbackable favourites to beat arch-rival New Zealand in the final — assuming the somewhat-shaky Silver Ferns make it — says something about the increased professionalism of the game here and might vindicate the decision to form a separate national league.
The Australians are unbackable favourites to beat arch-rival New Zealand in the final. (AAP Image: Dan Himbrechts)
But it says even more about the team’s transformation from an outfit that relied heavily on its individual talent to one with a winning — yes — culture that should be studied and replicated by other national teams of either gender.
In that regard, coach Lisa Alexander’s undisguised admiration for the All Blacks provides a certain irony to her team’s recent dominance of the Silver Ferns.
An elite women’s team demonstrating that, for all the continued disparity in pay and exposure, it can set standards male teams must follow? Now that’s a Cathy Freeman Moment.