Olympics 2012: 10 Things You Need to Know About Sally Pearson
There's a lot more to an Olympic athlete like Sally Pearson than, well, being an athlete.
She's undoubtedly one of the elite 100-meter hurdlers competing for gold at the 2012 London Games and rightfully so, because Pearson is the reigning Olympic silver-medalist in the event.
In addition, her celebrity has continued to grow since the 2008 Beijing Olympics and one could argue Pearson's current stature is a foregone conclusion. Her overall career success can be traced back to her early teenage years, which makes the Olympian's recognition her expected destiny.
Pearson's popularity isn't slowing down either. After all, why should a track star's celebrity slow down when racing is his or her career objective anyway?
To that end, let's take a look at Australia's premier track athlete.
Same Coach, Same Results
Sharon Hannan has been Sally Pearson's coach since 1999.
Hannan has also been the only one to coach Pearson throughout her career. So, it's no surprise that Pearson's success remains consistent, just like her coach.
Four years after becoming the coach, Hannan saw Pearson win gold at the 2003 World Youth Championships in the 100-meter hurdles. Since then, Pearson has added four more gold medals prior to her runner-up finish at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Looking briefly ahead to the 2012 London Games, you can expect Pearson to challenge for the gold once again.
History in the Making
Rewind back to the 1968 Summer Olympics when Australia took gold and silver in the women's 80-meter hurdles.
Entering the 2008 Summer Olympics, Australia was in the midst of a 40-year 100-meter hurdle (technically 80-meter) drought. Well, that was until Pearson won the silver medal in the 100-meter hurdles and solidified herself on the grandest of stages.
At the time, Pearson was also only 21 years old. Now 25, Pearson can use her success and experience to her advantage in vying for Australia's first 100-meter hurdles gold medal in over 40 years.
One of a Kind
Not only was Sally Pearson the first Australian to win female Athlete of the Year, she is the first Australian—male or female—to receive the award.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald back in 2011:
THE extraordinary nature of Sally Pearson's victory in the 100-metre hurdles at the world championships has been acknowledged with the honour of being the first Australian to be elected athlete of the year.
Pearson stated thereafter:
I always watched what these awards were about, and wondered how to become the best athlete in the world.
'Then all of a sudden I'm standing up there receiving the award and it's pretty spectacular and I hope I can do it more times than this.
If anything, the final sentence of her statement proves how truly motivated Pearson is as an athlete and person. There needs to be more positive role models like her and it would not be surprising if Pearson won this illustrious award again.
Fame Before She Knew It
In an interview with Dwayne Grant of GoldCoast.com, Pearson stated:
"I had no idea what was going on until I got back home. I didn't realise how big I was," the 22-year-old says without a hint of ego. "Whenever I spoke to (my partner) Kieran on the phone he would say 'you wouldn't understand how big you are at home. (Pole vaulter) Steve Hooker got the gold medal but I haven't seen anything in the papers about him. I've only seen it about you'."
This is an interesting, because once she got married the then Sally Pearson was no longer Sally McLellan, the maiden name under which she won the silver medal.
Regardless, it's not like Pearson's future in athletics was going to change. Since the 2008 Games, she has earned multiple gold medals and arguably the most prestigious award in being named the athlete of the year, as we previously saw.
If Only Training Were Easy
Staying with the interview of Dwayne Grant of GoldCoast.com, Pearson revealed an interesting perspective about training:
I hate training because it's so hard. I like training for the social side but I hate it because it hurts. It makes me vomit. There are plenty of times when I've come home and told Kieran 'don't come near me, I've just been vomiting up at training'.
What we all can learn from this is the sacrifice Pearson is making to enjoy success.
Olympians, regardless of sport, train longer and harder than any other athletes around. And because the Olympics only come around once every four years, the athletes are under much more pressure because of the limited opportunities on such a grand stage.
Sure, there are other competitions that occur between Olympics, but the Summer Games are the ones that truly matter. No matter how many World Championships an athlete may have won, any Olympic medal tops that, period.
As for Pearson, she possesses an excellent level of discipline. Because for someone who hates training, it would be easy to quit and not fight through all the pain needed to compete in the Olympics.
Destiny or Forgone Conclusion
At age 14 Sally Pearson competed in the 2001 Australian championships.
She won the under-20 division in the 100-meter dash and the rest is history. Now, although she is primarily a hurdler more than a decade later, that immediate level of success paved the way for one impressive career.
Ironically, Pearson's main event is the 100-meter hurdlers, so she's clearly taking advantage of her natural sprinting ability in order to remain an elite Olympian. With so much potential and pure talent regarding speed and acceleration, Pearson is a rarity that will stay atop of her sport for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Tough Competition, but Tougher Beginnings
Every Olympic athlete has a story and others haven't been so fortunate.
McLellan grew up in a household in which money was tight. Her mother, Anne, a single parent, worked two jobs to gather enough cash to send Sally to interstate athletics carnivals.
That sacrifice, the 21-year-old says, made her appreciate every chance that came her way and has driven her all the way to Beijing, where she is a strong medal chance in the 100m hurdles.
Life is full of infinite proverbial hurdles and growing up was just one of those for Pearson. It's fitting that she competes in an event that involves physical hurdles because Pearson has found success in leaping over other types of hurdles.
Having the opportunity to compete for an Olympic gold just seems to be an unfair, when you consider her youth.
Opportunity to Be on Own Pedestal
In 2011 Sally Pearson won the gold medal for her 100-meter hurdles event at the world championships in South Korea.
She won with a time of 12.28 seconds and bested Dawn Harper of the United States, who previously beat Pearson for gold at the 2008 Summer Olympics. The 2012 London Games, however, are tough because Pearson is at the top right now looking down.
There is almost a favourite's curse on front runners in the hurdles - so far no woman who has won the world championships in the hurdles (as Pearson did last year) has taken gold at the next year's Olympics.
The bright side of this is if Pearson doesn't take gold, she's then just in good company with every other world champion. So at the 2012 Olympics, Pearson literally has a golden opportunity to put herself on the highest of pedestals.
The magnitude of this event will be fascinating to see because if you include her silver from 2008 she immediately becomes a gold medal contender. And anything less will be disappointing.
High Risk Equals High Reward
Just like we would expect from any elite and competitive athlete, Sally Pearson takes losing rather difficultly.
Unfortunately it's a level of difficulty that's also unhealthy. In an interview with the Australian Women's Weekly last November:
"I went downhill big-time mentally because I was just so devastated," says Sally [regarding her fifth place finish at 2009 World Championships], who sees a psychologist to deal with training and performance pressure. "I couldn't do what I wanted to do and I wasn't doing it as well as I wanted to, and that was really hard for me to deal with, but it's slowly coming."
At that level of competition, this is not surprising. We have to remember that these athletes aren't normal people in terms of their competitive natures.
Each have a gift that's so uniquely rare and elite that losing isn't an option. These athletes are going through rigorous training and we can only imagine what it feels like when those efforts fail to pay dividends.
"The higher the risk, the higher the reward" may be cliche, but hiding in there is having to deal with a higher level of difficulty upon failure.
Consistency at Its Finest
Since taking silver at the 2008 Summer Games in the 100-meter hurdles, Sally Pearson has easily been the most dominating performer of her event.
And in an article by the Associated Press via FOX Sports:
Until last weekend, Pearson hadn't lost a race in 2012 and had only lost in one of her previous 33 starts at the 100-meter hurdles.
The 100-meter hurdles world record has stood since 1988, when Yordanka Donkova of Bulgaria ran 12.21. Pearson's world championship-winning time of 12.28 in Daegu last September was the fastest time in almost 20 years. And that came amid a run of 19 consecutive race wins before stumbling over a hurdle in her last race of the year in Brussels.
What Pearson has accomplished in the 100 hurdlers is virtually unprecedented in terms of consistency. One loss, her previous 33 starts, is like an NFL quarterback leading his team to a 19-0 record one season and then starting out 13-0 the following season before losing.
Or it's like a pitcher in MLB who finishes the regular season 32-1. Simply unbelievable, and for her sake, let's get excited for an exhilarating performance in London.
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