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Freeman Running in Prefontaine Classic

May 23, 2003

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ After Australian Cathy Freeman captured the world’s attention in the 2000 Olympics, she needed a break _ time to finally focus on herself off the track.

Freeman is back, competing in her first international 400 meters since Sydney.

Hoping to repeat with a gold medal in Athens next year, Freeman is among the participants Saturday at the 29th annual Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. In the 400, she’ll face Ana Guevara of Mexico, who was unbeaten at that distance last season.

``I’m gaining confidence every day,″ Freeman said during a visit this week to Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. ``It’s showing in my workouts. In my heart, I really love what I do.″

Freeman, dressed in a shimmering bodysuit, lit the 2000 Olympic flame in Sydney before millions of television viewers worldwide. She then thrilled fans in the 400 when she became the first aboriginal Australian ever to win an individual Olympic gold medal.

Freeman has won two world championships in the 400 and has had two 21-race unbeaten streaks.

But after Sydney, Freeman took a year off from training and competition. She battled a thigh injury to return for a time in 2002, but cut her comeback short to care for her husband, who was diagnosed with throat cancer.

``I didn’t plan to have a rest after the Olympics,″ she said. ``I just woke up one morning and thought, `I’m not running today. I don’t want to run.‴

During her initial break, Freeman took Italian lessons, worked with the homeless in Portland and visited Russia. She gained 20 pounds and found the person inside the athlete.

``I did nothing, no exercise whatsoever,″ she said. ``I think I just needed to stop.″

Early last year, Freeman injured her thigh, slowing her comeback. Then her husband, Nike executive Alexander Bodecker, was diagnosed with cancer and she stayed at his side during radiation treatments.

The couple separated earlier this year, and Freeman rededicated herself to her sport. She has spent time recently in Berkeley, Calif., quietly training and touching base with mentor Michael Johnson.

On April 4, Freeman won her ninth Australian national championship in the 400. In Mexico City earlier this month, Guevara set a world record in the 300, while Freeman was third.

Freeman said it was only recently that she got ``that feeling″ about the track back.

``I actually feel electricity at the tips of my toes,″ she said in her lilting Aussie accent. ``And I feel like I’m flying _ with wings, sailing down the track. It’s like I’m being carried.″

One of the biggest names scheduled for the Prefontaine, 100 world record-holder Tim Montgomery, was forced to withdraw from the event earlier this week because of a foot injury sustained while running some hurdles earlier this week.

Montgomery ran a 100 of 9.78 seconds last September in Paris, breaking Maurice Greene’s 3-year-old record by a hundredth of a second.

Headlining the 100 now is Dwain Chambers, who was second to Montgomery in the Grand Prix final at 9.87. Kim Collins of St. Kitts, who beat Greene in the 100 at the Oregon Track Classic in Gresham, Ore., last week, is also in the field.

The Prefontaine Classic, named after legendary Oregon distance runner Steve Prefontaine, is one of three international Grand Prix events scheduled for the United States this season. It is the second event this season on USA Track & Field’s Outdoor Golden Spike Tour.

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