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After enduring the most heartbreaking experience of her career, Australia’s Sally Pearson bounced back three days later to claim Commonwealth 100m hurdles glory in scintillating and emotional style earlier this week, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 24-year-old’s world-class 12.67 winning time was an extra-sweet achievement for the Sydney-born athlete, as it provided the ultimate redemption following her disqualification in the 100m final in the most insensitive of manners.
Having crossed the finish-line in first place, the Olympic silver-medallist was only told of her barring after celebrating her lap of honour and as she prepared to collect her gold medal.
The Australian and Oceanian record-holder’s result was protested by the English team – whose Katherine Endacott was eventually promoted to silver - following an apparent false-start alongside England’s Laura Turner, subsequently breaking the Australian’s heart.
Pearson – whose mother is from Kent and lives in the South of England – explained at the time:
"I'm just numb right now, I don't really know what I feel. I'm obviously devastated and disappointed. I was told I was in the clear. I was told all sorts of different stories.
I was never once told the truth or told what was going on. I don't think that was fair. This is our careers. To have run the race, do the victory lap and told everything's OK, then told you can't have the medal... I have to deal with it."
Deal with it she did and in phenomenal style, too, storming to one of the performances of the championship in Delhi to collect her first Commonwealth gold at the third time of trying – the first being in Melbourne 2006 where she tripped over a hurdle and finished last in the final.
After scorching away from the field in dominant and determined fashion, the 5ft5 sprinter fell to her knees sobbing with relief, as the emotion poured out after realising what she had achieved amidst such adversity during her time in India.
Speaking afterwards, Pearson revealed: "It's my first real title and it won't get taken away from me.
It's the most amazing feeling. I vowed to try my hardest, stay focused on what I had to do and I had the race of my life. I just went for it. I didn't hold back.
It's been the hardest week of my life really, I don't know how I was able to overcome the 100m disappointment but I just thought I had to block it out of my mind. As soon as I crossed the finish line in the hurdles it all just came welling up again, it all came out, but it was good, I came here to win the hurdles and I did."
Further proving what a fighter she really is and attracting much praise from her team-mates, coach and indeed her country, Pearson returned to the track the following day to help the Australian 4x400m relay squad finish fifth.
Running a commendable 52.6 split, Pearson again ran her heart out despite having only ever trained for the 100m distance and in the wake of her blistering effort, required a full twenty-minutes to recover on the track before being carried away.
Such nerves of steel and a gutsy week of performances sum up Pearson perfectly. After making her international debut at 16 with gold at the World Youth championships in Canada in 2002, she went onto represent her nation in the 4x100m relay at the 2003 World championships in Paris and took World junior bronze over 100m the following season.
Four years later and now an established senior athlete, Pearson’s breakthrough came in the Beijing Olympics where she placed runner-up over the hurdles in 12.64, before finishing fifth in the World championships in Berlin last year after suffering from ongoing back issues.
“My back was spasming a lot before Berlin last year so I was out for eight months with a muscle tear,” Pearson revealed.
“It was getting worse all the time, it kept coming back during training so it was an up and down season for me last year but I eventually got back after doing everything I could with physiotherapy.”
In a year in which she got married, 2010 has seen promising times for the Queensland-based runner. Having been coached by Sharon Hannon since aged 13, Pearson registered her 12.50 life-time best in July which ignited a memorable season:
“I’m pretty excited by how the year’s gone,” Pearson explained.
“I’ve been taking it one race at a time, trying not to get too excited until the season ended. Stockholm was the turning point this year – I hadn’t run 12.5 for over a year so it told me where I was fitness-wise, it was really exciting to start the season off so well and to also be consistent throughout the season more than anything.
Winning the Continental Cup (in Split last month) was great and of course, Delhi.”
Sharing her time between the Gold Coast and Cologne (in the European summer), Pearson also enjoys switching her attention between her “pet event”, the 100m hurdles and the 100m flat – an event in which she boasts an impressive 11.14 best.
However, having focused on the sprint hurdles for the past three seasons, Pearson insists on remaining loyal to the discipline in which she has achieved the most success:
“I won’t do the double in 2012 due to scheduling clashes and my ongoing back problems,” she explained.
“I'll definitely do (the 100m flat) in the Australian season but it showed in the hurdle heats (in Delhi) that I hurdled like a sprinter and I didn't keep my technique.
So probably not next year or the year after, simply because they're going to be the two biggest years of my life with the world championships and the Olympics - I just have to keep focused on my pet event internationally and do the best that I can."
Should Pearson show the kind of focus she practised in Delhi to bounce back to gold, then global and Olympic glory should be just around the corner for this determined Aussie.