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Freeman Turns Race Into A Historic Event Australian Becomes First Aborigine To Win World Or Olympic Track Gold

Tue., Aug. 5, 1997

Cathy Freeman made history and Michael Johnson made amends.

Freeman, a 24-year-old Australian, became the first Aborigine to win a world or Olympic track and field title, taking the women’s 400 meters at the World Championships on Monday night.

“Tonight, I will be a proud girl,” Freeman said after her dramatic triumph and slow victory lap around Olympic Stadium with both the Australian and Aboriginal flags. “It gives me a special feeling. Being the first is always special.”

Johnson, taking his role seriously as the world’s best 400-meter runner after a mistake Sunday that almost cost him a place in the semifinals, reasserted his authority by winning his heat and advancing to tonight’s final.

Freeman was not the only athlete to make history Monday night.

Llewellyn Herbert became the first South African to win a medal in the world championships, earning the silver in the men’s 400-meter hurdles.

Johnson, whose 58-meet winning streak in the 400 was broken in June, rebounded from his near failure in the heats by winning his semifinal in 44.37, the year’s fourth-fastest time.

With Johnson awarded a wild card as defending champion, the U.S. was permitted to have three other entrants in the 400. The three - Antonio Pettigrew, Tyree Washington and Jerome Young - all reached the final, with Washington taking the other semifinal in 44.61.

Herbert was beaten for the hurdles title by France’s Stephane Diagana, who, after crossing the finish in a 1997 world-best in 47.70, collapsed onto the track.

Herbert was timed in 47.86, a South African record. American Bryan Bronson, the previous world leader and heavy favorite after Olympic gold medalist Derrick Adkins was eliminated in the semifinals, faded after a fast start and finished third at 47.88.

In Monday’s other finals, Sarka Kasparkova of the Czech Republic won the women’s triple jump with a world-leading 49 feet, 10-1/2 inches, and Germany’s Sabine Braun, the 1991 heptathlon champion, regained the title with 6,739 points.

Kasparkova’s leap was the third-best ever. Romania’s Rodica Mateescu, the runner-up, had the fifth-best performance in history at 49-9.

A big surprise was the failure of Olympic champion Charles Austin to advance to the men’s high jump final. Austin, also the 1991 world champion, failed to make the qualifying height of 7-5-3/4, clearing only 7-5.


 

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