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The fire is burning, still

London: Olympic champion Cathy Freeman admits she thought about retiring after losing her first major 400 metres race in five years.

Freeman needs to run a qualifying time in Brisbane this week to make the Australian team for the August world championships in Paris. Eleven days ago she was beaten by Manchester Commonwealth Games 400m hurdles champion Jana Pittman.

The 29-year-old Freeman’s time of 51.81 seconds in Sydney was still the fastest since her post-Olympic sabbatical, although well behind Pittman’s 50.43.

“Suddenly I found myself thinking: ‘oh god, maybe I should retire’. I had all these extreme feelings. I was worrying about whether I still had it or not. I was asking myself what the hell I really wanted to do,” she wrote in her column in The Daily Telegraph.

But she says a chat with her mum helped her sort herself out.

“She said: ‘Failure to me is not being true to who you are’. I realised then that I would never be able to forgive myself if I didn’t, at least, try to be a champion again,” Freeman adds.

She said her coach Phil King had revamped her training sessions, putting in more speed sessions, more repetitions. But he also questioned whether she had the fighting spirit in the later stages of the race. She said he wondered whether she had too many things on her mind and told her to let things go.

Last month Freeman announced her three-and-a-half year marriage to American Sandy Bodecker was over.

She says her post-Olympic sabbatical and year spent looking after Bodecker, who had throat cancer, had taken a lot out of her.

“We’re not machines after all,” she says. “You can’t expect the body just to switch on again.”

But she still has the fire and aims to continue running right up until the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.

“First, though, that qualifying time for the world championships. I need to run 51.40 seconds. And do you know what' I can.”

Freeman, world champion in 1997 and 1999 at 400m, was prevented from running in the 400m at the Manchester Games by a thigh injury.

Freeman still won gold at the Commonwealth Games in the 4x400 metres relay, running the second leg while not 100 percent fit.

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