Olympic Track and Field 2012: Aussie Sally Pearson Will Be USA's Toughest Hurdle

Red Shannon@@rojosportsFeatured ColumnistJuly 9, 2012

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 11:  Sally Pearson of QLD on her way to winning the Womens 100 Metres Hurdle Open during the Perth Track Classic at WA Athletics Stadium on February 11, 2012 in Perth, Australia  (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)
Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

While the freshly anointed U.S. women's 100-meter hurdles team of Dawn Harper, Kellie Wells and (especially) Lolo Jones has been hogging the U.S. headlines, Australian hurdler Sally Pearson has been methodically making her case as the woman to beat in London 2012.

Pearson's under-the-radar status is uniquely an American phenomenon—where, in the consciousness of the casual fan, track and field itself barely registers a blip (except in an Olympic year). The rest of the world is well aware of her total dominance in the event since September of 2010.

From that time until September of 2011, Pearson put together an incredible string of 13 consecutive final wins. So dominant was her win streak, she was selected as the IAAF 2011 Female Athlete of the Year.

In 2012, she is again in the midst of another undefeated string.

Pearson, 25, is the current world indoor and outdoor champion, current world leader (12.40 seconds) and current fastest hurdler (12.28) since the heyday of the Eastern Bloc Bulgarians and Russians of the 1980s and early 1990s.

The clouded (because of alleged steroid use) world record is 12.21, set by Yordanka Donkova of Bulgaria in 1988.

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Pearson's greatness as a hurdler is a by-product of her natural swiftness. As a former flat sprinter, she has personal bests in the 100 (11.14) and 200 (23.02), both of which press the lower limits of world-class speed.

In fact, at only 16 years of age, Pearson ran on the Australian 4x100-meter relay team at the 2003 World Championships in Paris. As one of Australia's best sprinters, she continues to pull duty in that capacity to this day.

Another attribute which separates Pearson from other hurdlers is her efficiency of motion over the hurdle. At only 5'5'', Pearson wastes little movement and has zero excess clearance at each of the 10 barriers. A side profile view of her technique would reveal a relative flatline from the first hurdle to the last (see video).

As dominant a racer as Pearson has proven to be, an Olympic gold medal will not be handed to her on a velvet pillow. The Americans, in particular, have a strong and purpose-driven team.

Harper, the reigning Olympic and U.S. champion, is motivated to prove her 2008 victory was no fluke. Pearson was the silver medalist in that race.

Wells, America's fastest hurdler in 2012 (12.55), is looking to place a golden cap on an exceptional year.

And Jones? Well, is anyone yet unaware of Lolo's captivating pursuit of Olympic redemption?

Jamaica's Brigitte Foster-Hylton (12.51) and Tiffany Porter (12.65) of Great Britain should earn lanes in the 100 hurdles final as well.

But on Tuesday, August 7, when eight ladies settle into their blocks in that much-anticipated final, the safest bet will be on the golden-haired dynamo from Down Under—Sally Pearson.

Then, for a few brief seconds, all the feel-good hype and tabloid chatter will descend into insignificance.

For Pearson, a win in that setting will generate the only headline that really matters.

Rojofact: Of Pearson's five rivals mentioned above, she holds a combined 51-30 record in career head-to-head wins. Only Jones (13-12) and Foster-Hylton (11-8) have an edge, with most of their wins coming early in Pearson's career.

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