Valerie Adams, Aries Merritt, Sally Pearson & Kim Collins before the 2013 IAAF Diamond League in London (© Kirby Lee)
Olympic and World champion Sally Pearson believes she can retain her 100m Hurdles title at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow next month despite struggling to find top form following her hamstring injury earlier this year.
The Australian, the 2011 World Athlete of the Year, was unbeaten over the barriers throughout 2012, a season topped by victory at the London 2012 Olympic Games, but she returns to the Olympic Stadium for the IAAF Diamond League meeting on Saturday in search of only her second win of the season following four consecutive defeats.
Pearson’s best time this year is 12.69 seconds, more than four-tenths outside her Australian record, and she is not quick enough to feature in the world’s top 10. Yet Pearson believes she has time to make up the gap, even on Briana Rollins who won the US championships in an super-quick 12.26 last month.
“When I came back I thought running really good times was going to be really important, but I have to be more realistic,” said Pearson on Thursday. “I realise my preparation is more important than anything now. Training is going really well and it shows that I can run really fast.
“I’m a lot more confident now than I’ve been all season and am actually really looking forward to Moscow. I believe three weeks is a great amount of time and I think I can win at the World Championships.
“The only really fast time was by Rollins at the US trials,” she added. “The rest are OK, but there’s only one that’s way out there. I think it will take something like that to win [in Moscow] but it’s just who is the best on the day.”
With only three full-speed sessions behind her, Pearson admitted she’s been racing when not fully prepared this year, and has found it difficult mentally losing to opponents she was beating regularly in previous years.
“It’s hard to be in races when my body remembers how to do it but I’m just not getting there yet. It feels like I’ve been getting slower in every race,” she said.
“But details of my races have been getting better, I just need to put the whole race together. I’m looking forward to getting the whole race as good as it can be before the World Champs.”
The next attempt comes at the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games, when she faces Nia Ali and Kellie Wells from USA, plus Britons Tiffany Porter and Jessica Ennis-Hill.
Pearson confessed to feeling excited about returning to the Olympic Stadium.
“There are some amazing memories in there for me,” she said. “It’s going to feel almost like the Olympic final again, with the same girls.
“Walking through the tunnel and out onto the track is going to bring back great memories, and I hope it will inspire me to a great race.”
Pearson’s fellow Olympic sprint hurdles champion Aries Merritt is in a similar position.
The American, who dominated the men’s 110m Hurdles last season, culminating in the world record of 12.80 at the Diamond League final in Brussels, has also been struggling for form following an injury in Shanghai just over two months ago.
But after finishing second in Birmingham at the end of June and then first in Paris three weeks ago, Merritt believes he’s ready to go under 13 seconds again.
“Training’s been going really well and now the injury’s gone I’m ready to run really fast,” he said. “I think the probability of a sub-13 time is very high.”
Like Pearson, Merritt has had to cope with the mental challenge of not being fit enough to run as fast he wants to.
“I think the toughest thing is wanting to have it right away, and I can’t,” he said.
“It’s just a battle to stay focused and keep my eyes on the prize, which is the World Championships.
“I’m happy to be back in London where I won Olympic gold, but everyone is telling me these races are just stepping stones to something greater. I’m actually really excited about Moscow now.”
For Valerie Adams, the prospect of competing in the Olympic Stadium stirs more mixed emotions.
Adams, who’s looking for her 38th consecutive Shot Put win on Saturday, remembers crying tears of disappointment at the end of the Olympic final after she had been beaten by Nadzeya Ostapchuk, but the Belarussian later found to have failed a drugs test.
“She took the moment away and tainted our sport,” said Adams. “The plan on Saturday is to win and feel the glory of the moment in the Olympic Stadium.
“Obviously, there are mixed emotions being back, but this time I’ll get to enjoy it at a different level. It’s one way to close the book on what happened last year.”
The evergreen St Kitts and Nevis sprinter Kim Collins, the 2001 100m World champion, continues to astound at an age and recently ran a national record of 9.97 at the age of 37.
“My coach and I have been working on finishing the race properly,” he said. “The first part of my race was always good but people were catching me. Now I’m finishing it off better.”
Collins will test his new-found stamina again on Friday against World record holder Usain Bolt, his Jamaican teammate Nesta Carter, and Britain’s new sub-10 man James Dasaolu.
Matthew Brown for the IAAF