Sally Pearson of Australia crosses the line in the women's 100 metres hurdles final (© Getty Images)
Daegu, Korea - Sally Pearson's flawless 12.28 run in the 100m Hurdles in Daegu Stadium on Saturday night, the equal fourth fastest in history and an IAAF World Championships record, was the culmination of a 12-year partnership with her coach, Sharon Hannan, which began when Person was just a schoolgirl in Queensland. The two met at a local track.
"I was coaching a couple of kids in her same age group at a track," Hannan recalled in an interview. "There were kids in various clubs, and then we went to state championships and one of the mums said have a look at this girl, and she said she doesn't have a coach. So that mum, introduced me to Sally's mum, and Sally's mum said can you start coaching her."
At the time, Hannan didn't know what kind of athlete Pearson --then McLellan-- would be. She soon learned that she had the talent and drive to be a champion, even at a young age.
"She has an innate competitiveness," Hannan offered. "It's just born. Then she commits, she just commits to every session, every rep. You know, she doesn't miss anything: commitment, continuity, repeatability. You know, she can just go out and do it again and again."
Under Hannan's coaching, Pearson won the Australian junior title at 100m when she was just 14. In 2003, she won the IAAF World Youth Championships gold medal in the hurdles, a prelude to an IAAF World Junior Championships title at 100m the following year (she also placed fourth in the hurdles). She did not get out of the semis at the 2007 IAAF World Championships in Osaka in both the 100m and the hurdles, but in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 she made the hurdles final and scored a silver medal, the first Olympic medal in that discipline by an Australian woman in 40 years. Hannan's guidance was a big reason for her success.
"She's been great," Pearson said of her coach. "She's been amazing support for me. I really can't thank her enough. We've been through a lot since I was 13... and had belief in me since then. I think she's probably the biggest influence in my life."
Hannan by her side, Pearson went into the 2009 IAAF World Championships with a back problem, and was only able to finish fifth. Remembering that disappointment helped drive her quest for excellence in Daegu.
"I went into those championships really defeated," Pearson said. "I hurt my back two or three weeks beforehand. Then, my mind beat me. I was very down and depressed and couldn't get over it. I learned not to push my body to the limits if it can't go there."
Pearson's remarkable technique --perhaps the best of any hurdler today, male or female-- comes from a combination of her dedication to details in her training, plus the development of her endurance which allows her to hold her form over all ten hurdles. Hannan has made a career of breaking the hurdles down into smaller components so Pearson can work on them individually.
"We just try to keep it really simple and work on one or two things at a time," Hannan said. "Like, when she first went up to the higher hurdles, she suddenly had this lead leg which was 35 degrees out that way," she said, waving her arm. "That took two and a half years to get that back."
Pearson said that Hannan's belief in her constantly gives her strength and the confidence to think that she can win and improve. Pearson pointed out that she has run faster every season but one since 2003.
"She never ever doubted me," Pearson said. "It's been a fantastic and hard road to get here. But, I couldn't ask for anything more and I can't thank her enough."
David Monti for the IAAF