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September 11, 2000
Cathy Freeman on secret missionJohn Maheffey
Cathy Freeman, Australia's primary hope for a track gold medal at the Sydney Olympics, is training in secret for the Games while her main rival Marie-Jose Perec is proving equally reclusive.
Twice world 400 metres champion Freeman, fastest woman in the world this year, based herself in London during the European athletics season.
On her return to Australia she did not join the Australian track team's training camp but opted instead to train at a secret venue in Melbourne with coach Peter Fortune.
Perec, who preceded Michael Johnson at the 1996 Atlanta Games in winning the 200-400 double, is aiming for a third successive 400 gold in Sydney on Monday, September 25.
She has been hampered by injury and illness since Atlanta and had little race preparation this year.
The 32-year-old Frenchwoman withdrew from meetings in London, Monaco and Brussels this year and her form remains a mystery.
She gave nothing away after arriving in Sydney on Friday, wearing black from head to toe.
To every question from local reporters asking her about the projected clash with Freeman, Perec responded with a dismissive: "Non."
Perec attracted controversy at the 1992 Barcelona Games when she said she regarded her winning time of 48.83 seconds as the true world record, implying that East German Marita Koch's mark of 47.60 at the 1985 World Cup in Canberra had been drug-assisted.
Having apparently made her feelings clear, the enigmatic Perec unexpectedly left U.S. sprint coach John Smith two years ago to team up with Koch's husband Wolfgang Meier.
Smith, the world's top sprint coach, is still in Los Angeles fine-tuning his athletes' preparations for the track and field competition starting on September 22.
His team includes Maurice Greene, world champion and record holder over the 100 metres, and Ato Boldon, favourite for the 200 in the absence of Greene and 1996 champion Johnson.
Both men pulled up before the finish in the U.S. championships' final with hamstring injuries.
Marion Jones, aiming for an unprecedented five gold medals in Sydney, is scheduled to leave for Australia on Monday.
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