SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ Runner Cathy Freeman, an uneasy symbol of Australia, lighted the Olympic flame Friday to mark the opening of the Sydney Games.

Freeman, of aboriginal descent, is a magnificent athlete who also reminds the nation of its divisions.

Her march to the Olympic cauldron was a symbol of the country's efforts to heal the wounds over the treatment of its 390,000 Aborigines, an effort also symbolized by decision to start the torch's journey through Australia with another Aborigine, hockey gold medalist Nova Peris-Kneebone.

A favorite to win the 400 meters, the 27-year-old Freeman also is a political figure who is stubbornly outspoken in her defense of Australia's indigenous people, the Aborigines, who make up about 390,000 of Australia's 20 million people.

When she won the 400 meters at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Canada, she took a victory lap carrying the aboriginal flag. When officials rebuked her for that, she won the 200 meters _ and again unfurled the aboriginal flag.

Freeman has not lost at 400 meters in three years and is the two-time defending world champion. She also may run at 200 meters and is expected to anchor Australia's 1,600-meter relay team.

She has made news almost as often off the track as on.

In July, she accused Australian leaders of insensitivity for refusing to apologize for government policies that forced the removal of about 100,000 aboriginal children from their homes from 1910 until the 1970s.

``I was so angry because they were denying they had done anything wrong, denying that a whole generation was stolen,'' Freeman said.

``I'll never know who my grandfather was, I didn't know who my great-grandmother was, and that can never be replaced.''

She is married to a U.S. citizen, Nike executive Sandy Bodecker.

If Freeman decides to repeat her victory lap with the aboriginal flag, she'll have the official blessing of the Australian Olympic Committee. It said it will not punish athletes who celebrate with that flag.