Series06 Mar 2018

Adam Pretty’s story behind the picture


Cathy Freeman in the 400m at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games (© Getty Images)

Cathy Freeman’s victory at the 2000 Sydney Olympics remains one of the all-time great moments in athletics history. Getty photographer Adam Pretty tells the story behind this aesthetically stunning shot of the Australian sprinter emerging from the blocks on her way to 400m gold.


"This image brings back a lot of good memories for me. The atmosphere that night when Cathy competed inside Stadium Australia at the Sydney Olympics was probably the best I’ve ever experienced. The crowd noises and camera flashes that followed her around the stadium made for an amazing atmosphere.

"Like any race which is 400m or above in distance, it gives the crowd time to get into the race and react. But, as an Australian, it was one of the highlights of my career because of the emotion of the moment.

"That night I knew I wanted to shoot something different. I didn’t want the same kind of image that every other photographer had. I had covered the test event in the stadium and I was aware of the catwalk above where the athletes were competing, so I set about getting access to this area to set myself up for the picture. Thankfully, although I was about 30 metres up in the air, I am okay with heights. I didn’t have to wear a safety harness and I leaned over the edge (of the catwalk) to take the shot.

"When Cathy came out on to the track with a full suit, it was very striking, so I was hopeful of a good shot.

"Back then it was the really early digital era and I still very much preferred to shoot on film. I can’t remember when I thought I had a cool image, but I probably went back to the office and processed the film. I didn’t get much initial feedback on the image because it was pre-digital but I remember in the following days the picture had a lot of usages, which was exciting.

"I think the image works well because the shapes are so good. Nothing is out of place. Cathy’s posture is very good and because she was wearing something different, more futuristic, it offers something different. All of these small elements add up to what makes the image special.

"Although it involved a little forethought to set up, the picture itself was not technically difficult to take. The real joy in the picture is the deep personal attachment I have with the image. As a big sports fan and a big fan of Cathy and all the difficulties she went through in the countdown to the Sydney Olympics, it gives the image more meaning. Having said that, I think it still is a nice, unique picture."

Steve Landells for the IAAF