CATHY Freeman is no longer running away.
The Sydney 2000 Olympic champion never fell out of love with her sport but she needed a prolonged separation that required a lot of time and space.
Australia's golden girl has taken a significant step in her return, becoming the sixth official ambassador for next year's Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
"This ambassadorship is lovely, it's lovely that I can get connected with people again," Freeman says.
"Just the memory of Sydney and the sentiment around it, I hope people revisit it and carry it over into the Gold Coast next year."
Freeman, 44, admits it took her years to recover from the enormity of her achievement at the Sydney Games and she is only now feeling able to reconnect with track and field.
"I realise I have to stop running away from the life I had, the life of an athlete," she explains.
"I don't think I ever stopped being in love with it, I think I just needed a break from that whole pressurised situation.
"There is a part of your development (as a person) that needs to be, not neglected, but put aside for a bit.
"When you're an elite athlete it's not a normal life. You are sort of just an athlete full-time, even in your sleep."
She was "still recovering" when Melbourne hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2006, and recalls presenting a medal but emotionally she wasn't there.
"I still wanted to get away from it all," she says.
It's a completely different outlook now for Freeman - a mother to five-year-old Rubie - who has been slowly making inroads back into track and field in recent times, including acting as a mentor to national 400m champion Morgan Mitchell.
At last year's Rio Olympics she found the sport tugging at her heartstrings again.
"In Rio I got to observe athletes at the warm-up track and watch the way they operated and how they managed their nerves before they went out to compete," Freeman says.
"Seeing the dynamic between coaches and athletes, just the whole big picture, it sort of made me think I would like to step back in and share some thoughts, simple as that."
So would she ever become a coach?
"No, absolutely not," she says quickly. "I'm an all or nothing person. I'm only a phone call away if athletes want to know anything."
Freeman is looking forward to meeting 17-year-old Riley Day, the Queensland schoolgirl who captured the attention of the nation with her performances at the Nitro Athletics Series in February.
"It's exciting for her, she won't be at the peak of her career (at the Gold Coast) but she will be on her way," she says.
"If you're hungry for success, you have to be hungry to want to perform in front of your home crowd.
"It's still a rush to throw on an Australian uniform and the Commonwealth Games has a nice place in people's hearts I think."
Freeman certainly has a soft spot for the event given the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland were where her career started.
"I remember my mum reading in the newspaper, the Courier-Mail in Brisbane, reading that I had made the team," she says.
"Everyone was really excited and I was half-asleep because I'd just woken up.
"I also remember the village was cool and being the baby in the athletics team was pretty fun."
Freeman ran the third leg in the gold medal-winning 4x100m relay team.
"I didn't drop (the baton), if anything I overdid it and was too careful. But I don't mind that, we won anyway."
Four years later at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada, Freeman announced herself on the world stage by winning gold in the 200m and 400m.
"That's where things got really serious and I had just started to get a touch of what I was capable of doing so it was exciting," she says.
Freeman's last race was at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games, where she won another gold in the 4x400m relay before retiring the following year.
She hopes someone wearing green and gold, like Mitchell or Day, can follow her lead and use the Gold Coast Games as their launching pad.
"I think it's good to use it as an opportunity to flex some talent muscle," Freeman says.
"It's going to be so exciting and I'm proud to be a part of it all."
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is excited Freeman will be joining Sally Pearson, Cameron McEvoy, Anna Meares, Laura Geitz and Kurt Fearnley as GC2018 ambassadors.
"Born and raised in Queensland, Cathy has a strong connection with our state and the Commonwealth Games," Ms Palaszczuk said.
Comm Games chairman Peter Beattie said: "Cathy holds a special place in all Australian hearts; she embodies the Commonwealth spirit and is a welcome edition to the GC2018 family."
Don't miss your chance to see history made. Tickets window closes May 22. www.gc2018.com/tickets
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