She couldn't top Sydney highs

Cathy Freeman says she never recovered from the "traumatic" experience of living up to Australia's expectations at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Freeman, 30, retired from athletics, less than three years after she lit the flame in Sydney and went on to win gold in the 400 metres. Freeman said the events of 2000 were "incredibly traumatic."

"More traumatic than I allowed myself to feel at the time and slowly but surely I have come to realise that I could not go through all that again," Freeman wrote in her weekly column in London's Daily Telegraph.

"And realistically, to win a gold medal in my own country, having lit the Olympic flame, there was never going to be a moment for an athlete finer than that."

Freeman said her career had been marked by "ups always followed by huge swooshing downs."

Freeman missed out on the semifinals of the 1992 Olympics and won silver in Atlanta four years later. She won the 400 title at the world championship in 1997 and 1999.

"And climaxing with that night in the Sydney Olympics when I won the 400 metres and then just sat there on the track, hardly daring to open the window in my mind that would let me experience all the feelings that were fighting in my head," Freeman wrote.

"I don't think I ever really did open that window fully. I boxed myself in. I had to be so totally focused to be an athlete that I forbade myself subconsciously to feel deeply.

"That is another reason I know it's time to retire. I am not so good at not feeling any more. Things get to me. I'm happier and sadder, more involved in others' lives.''

Freeman said she had thoughts of retirement after finishing fifth in a race in Eugene, Oregon, on May 24.

"My depression stemmed from the fact that I had come a poor fifth ... and you know what? I didn't feel distraught," she said.

"In the past I would have been furious, vowing to do better. Working every minute of the day to succeed, putting everything into my running: my diet, my life, my feelings. This time I thought 'Oh well.' It was time to get out."

Freeman dedicated her career to her sister Anne Marie, who died after an asthma attack soon after she won her first gold medal at the 1990 Commonwealth Games.

"I dedicated my running career to her after that. She became my main inspiration,'' Freeman said.