Feature07 Aug 2012

Pearson – “when Cathy won I said to myself ‘I want that as well’”


Sally Pearson of Australia hugs Kellie Wells of the United States after winning the gold medal in the Women's 100m Hurdles Final on Day 11 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on 7 August 2012 (© Getty Images)

She wanted and expected gold in London. As did the entire Australian nation. Other than that, there was no pressure on Sally Pearson to win the Olympic 100m hurdles title – which she did, in characteristic, impeccable style, earning her country’s first track and field gold of the Games in the process.

"Winning at the Olympics has been a dream of mine for 12 years since I saw Cathy Freeman take gold in the Sydney 400 metres," Pearson said after coming home in an Olympic record of 12.35sec, adding that her next ambition was more prosaic: "I just want to have a cheeseburger."

The comparison with Freeman was apt, even if the national expectations of 2012 were of a more narrowly athletic nature.

"All I wanted to do was make sure I got the start of my life," said Pearson, who had won silver four years earlier at the Beijing Games. "I really needed that. I had to run the race of my life to win tonight. These girls have been and will be on my tail the whole time. It was just a case of focusing on your race and your lane and crossing that line first."

"I wouldn’t have cared tonight if I’d run 14 seconds and won the gold. I just wanted to get out here and get the job done."

So close was the race that there was an anxious wait for the runners afterwards before confirmation of the result flashed up on the screen. "When I saw my name up there it was just huge, huge relief," said Pearson.

Harper admitted that she wondered momentarily if she had "sneaked" the race, while Pearson said she had not seen the eventual silver medallist until they had crossed the line, at which point she wondered: "Whoa! This could be close."

Asked if victory was what she expected now she had attained it, the newly minted champion replied: "Definitely. Everything and more, I think. I remember in 2000 when Cathy won I said to myself 'I want that as well.’ I wanted to train to be the best athlete in the world, although I didn’t know what kind of an athlete because I was only 13 at the time. It was a matter of just knowing that that’s what I wanted do, knowing I wanted to work hard for it and that it wasn’t going to come easy."

"Winning an Olympic gold medal isn’t easy to do. You have to stay focused. But I have had belief in myself, probably in the last four years more than anything. When I won silver in Beijing, that’s when I knew that I could be the best in the world. That’s when I knew I had the belief in myself to get to the title, and this is everything and more than I wanted."

"I was counting on it raining every single day in London, I’ve trained for this. It definitely hasn’t been typical British weather until tonight. When I looked out of the window this morning and saw grey skies I thought, 'Oh well, that’s what I expected to happen.’ But nothing was going to stop me."

"I had some great room-mates. Most of them have finished now. They’re the ones that really got me through, just keeping me calm and keeping me laughing and keeping me distracted from the thing that was staring me in the face – the hurdles final. In the end it was just really belief for me – it’s believing in yourself, giving it a crack and knowing that you can do it."

"I remember when I was due to run the final in Beijing I spoke to a long jumper who had reached the final in Athens and I said "How do you do this? I don’t know how I am going to do it." And she said, 'This is no time to freeze because it’s the Olympic Games. This is what you do every single day. You aren’t going to forget how to hurdle or run. So you just have to do it.’"

After her two US rivals had explained the place religion had in their lives and careers, Pearson added: "I’m not a hugely religious sort of person, so I can’t really go there I guess, but I do think I’ve got a gift from somewhere – I’m not sure where – and I just want to use it and not to waste it.

"That’s why nothing is good enough for me in training. I always want to give 110 per cent to what I do. I use my training like a competition. Every single time I go out I imagine these two girls next to me all the time as I am getting over hurdles in training. You have to keep telling yourself that there are so many people out there who are going to be just as good as you."

"Just as good maybe – but not on this important day."

Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF
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