By Paul Mulvey
- Heir apparent JanaPittman welcomes the challenge of succeeding CathyFreeman as Australia’s athletics trailblazer.
And Pittman says Freeman should be celebrated forshowing a generation that Australian athletes cansucceed on the world track stage.
Aged 20 and ranked No.1 in the world in the 400 metreshurdles, Pittman is favoured for a world championshipgold medal in Paris in six weeks and further success atnext year’s Athens Olympics and beyond.
With Freeman retiring after two world titles and herSydney Olympic gold medal, Pittman accepts even morepressure will fall on her, with Australia hungry forcontinued track success at the highest level.
My expectations of myself put me in that place,''said Pittman from the Australian team's training camp inRome.Hopefully I can make a name for myself and stand onmy own two feet.
I'd love to be able to take her place, but I have toput the runs on the board first.I’m dying to win the world championship.’’
Pittman said she was initially shocked when told by ajournalist about Freeman’s decision to retire.
Pittman then broke the news to the rest of theAustralian team.
After initial sadness among the team, Pittman realisedthe legacy Freeman left Australian athletics wassomething special.
One of our greatest heroes has just decided she'shad enough. It's special rather than sad and that's theway people should look at it,'' Pittman said. She’s given so much to the sport, we’ve just got totake it in our stride.
But she'll always be there for us to fall back on asone of our heroes. She achieved everything she could have in the sport,double world champion and Olympic gold medal, and she’shad enough, so good on her.
Everyone has dreams and goals and once you get them,where do you go? The Olympics was amazing for her, winning, lightingthe torch, how are you supposed to find more focus whenyou’ve done everything?
She loved the sport and wanted to give more to it.She could have given up after the Olympics but, no, shehung around and helped us. And not just her athletics, the way she carriedherself, the way she talked to people, she was what weall dream of, the complete package.’’
Pittman, 20, stood in line waiting for a Freemanautograph when she was a young girl and said sheinstilled a generation of Australian athletes with aconfidence that had been lacking on the internationalstage.
As Australians, knowing she could do it was soimportant,'' Pittman said. In European athletics there’s often a feeling ‘I’mAustralian, I shouldn’t be here’. But she set a platformthat proved we were capable of it.’’
Pittman said many in the Australian team suspectedFreeman could retire after she announced last month thatshe had withdrawn from the individual 400m at the worldchampionships.
Even so, we were all a little bit sad because she'shad such a big impact on our careers,'' she said. She gave us all so much confidence. It’s hard tobelieve Cathy Freeman is finished.’’
Pittman suggested Freeman could now enjoy a normallife after absorbing years of high pressure.
Maybe she can be human and normal again,'' she said. The last couple of years have been abnormal, sheneeds a break. Hopefully something without pressure.’’