No hurdles too high for Pearson in Olympic year
Sally Pearson doesn’t bother trying to conceal her ambitions now
that she’s a world champion.
An Olympic gold medal is top of her list for 2012. A world
record in the 100-meter hurdles would be a bonus.
With the London Olympics track program still five months away,
Pearson is setting her sights high for her first trip to this
weekend’s world indoor championships, targeting a time of 7.70
seconds in the 60-meter hurdles. The world record is 7.68.
She can afford to be confident at Istanbul. She’s renowned for
being quick out of the blocks, and she’s started the year with a
Pearson won the national Olympic trials in 12.49 seconds on a
wet and miserable weekend in Melbourne, the fastest time ever for a
100 hurdles on Australian soil. No woman has run a faster hurdles
race this early in the year.
Being Australia’s best chance of a track gold medal in London
comes with enormous expectations.
”Yeah, I know I’ve got pressure, but I can deal with it. If I
was going to falter under pressure, I would have done it tonight,”
she said on Saturday. ”I’ve shown that I can do world-class times
at the start of the year and that’ll probably scare my competitors
a bit overseas.”
She ran the fourth-fastest time of her career on what she
thought was going to be a bad night. Pearson didn’t even need to be
competing because she’d already been nominated to the Australian
team and could have been focused on the world indoors.
The 25-year-old Pearson was halfway through her hurdles final
and starting to think her timing was terrible.
Moments later, she was bounding back up the straight,
high-fiving fans who’d ignored the rain and were hanging over a
barricade only a few yards from the outside lane to try to get a
Pearson set a PB in the 200 later Saturday night for her third
win of the meet – she won the 100 title into a strong headwind the
Eric Hollingsworth, high performance manager for Athletics
Australia, has been monitoring Pearson closely since she was 15 and
is expecting big things.
”Well, she’s a miracle girl at the moment with 12.50 like
that,” Hollingsworth told The Associated Press. ”All we can say
is, we’ve got to keep pushing. And if she’s running 12.50 now, then
you’ve got to be thinking about the world record at some
The 100 hurdles world record has stood since 1988, when
Bulgaria’s Yordanka Donkova ran 12.21. Pearson’s world
championship-winning time of 12.28 at Daegu last September was the
fastest time in almost 20 years. That came amid a run of 19
consecutive race wins before stumbling over a hurdle in her last
race of the year at Brussels.
Hollingsworth is conscious that Pearson, the IAAF’s 2011 Female
World Athlete of the Year, shouldn’t be peaking too early.
”Hard thing for us in Australia is always to keep a
perspective. It is still March and there’s a long way for us to get
ready in August,” he said. ”All we can say is, we’ve got to keep
pushing. One thing we don’t want is for our athletes to
The run on Saturday night was just part of the buildup for her
to peak at the Olympics.
”Given the conditions tonight. You’ve seen this in March. To
run 12.50. She’s got to be somewhere there when we get her to full
peak and she’s done another bit of base work and the momentum
comes,” he said. ”She’s got to be not too far away.”
Pearson endeared herself to the Australian public after an
emotionally raw and candid TV interview immediately after winning
the silver medal at the Beijing Olympics in a race where American
favorite Lolo Jones tripped on the penultimate hurdle and slipped
from first to seventh.
Jones’ U.S. teammate Dawn Harper won in 12.54. Pearson, then
known by her maiden name of Sally McLellan, was next.
She hopped up and down constantly for several minutes in
celebration, then admitted on Australian TV that she’d lied in
earlier interviews when she limited her expectations to just
reaching the final.
She won the hearts of Australians again in 2010 after being
denied a gold medal in the 100 meters at the Commonwealth Games in
New Delhi following a lengthy hearing triggered by England’s
protest about a false start. In a teary interview, she expressed
her disappointed but vowed to improve. She won the hurdles at the
same meet, and that set her on the path to her run to the world
title in South Korea last year.
Other Australian athletes put in Olympic qualifying performances
at the meet in Melbourne on the weekend, and other world champions
were in the fields, but there’s no doubt who the 3,000 or so
spectators who filed into a windy Lakeside Stadium wanted to
Dozens of young girls were in the crowd, some pleading for
autographs and handshakes after her hurdles win. She obliged where
she could, and did media interviews in the rain to try to keep
She also has a weekly diary in the mass-circulation Sydney-based
Daily Telegraph and her longtime coach, Sharon Hannon, even wrote a
column for the national newspaper The Australian on Saturday.
”She’s obviously the golden girl,” Hollingsworth said. ”But
it’s actually part of the training process with how Sharon does
”She wants her athlete to do lots of speed. Lots of repeat
performances. Get used to the ups and downs, the warmup, the cool
down, because that’s what a championships is like. So she’s done
Hannon, who started coaching Pearson in 1999, wrote that her
star pupil was timing her run to perfection.
”We are preparing to win gold in the 100 hurdles at the London
Olympics. Will the winning time matter? No. The fastest winning
time in an Olympic 100m hurdles was 12.37 seconds in 2004 by Joanna
Hayes of the US. And the fastest winning time in a world
championships before Sally’s personal best of 12.28s in 2011 was
also a 12.37s by Gail Devers in 1999 at Seville.
”But what really matters is crossing the finish line first. It
is our intention for Sally to cross the line first in the heats on
August 6, and again in the semifinals and finals on August 7.
‘Project Gold’ is about all three races.”
Pearson herself thinks the world record will be tough to break,
”but as I’ve been saying anything’s possible, especially with the
sort of shape I’m in at the moment.”
”I think it is possible, but at the same time all I’m focussing
on is winning the gold medal.”
She’s taking the same approach to the world indoors.