When Sally Pearson came back from the abyss

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Despite many injuries, Pearson’s career often featured triumph on the big occasion. Photo: Public.Resource.Org via Flickr

First it was a “bone explosion”, then it was a torn hamstring, but in 2017, after two years of crushing injuries, Sally Pearson finally stood back on top of the world.

Victory in the 100m hurdles final at the 2017 World Championships in London was one of, if not the biggest story of the whole competition.

The Australian hurdler had seemed invincible not long before it, winning a world title and a sensational Olympic gold in 2011 and 2012 which also saw her win 32 out of 34 races.

However, when the time came for the her to defend her Olympic crown at Rio in 2016, nasty injuries and setbacks meant the once unstoppable force was now pushed onto the sidelines.E

Times also seemed to be changing fast in the women’s 100m hurdles.

2016 saw the emergence of the USA’s Kendra Harrison, who famously, despite not even qualifying for the Olympics, broke the world record at the London Anniversary Games.

It sent shockwaves throughout the event and underlined the USA’s dominance in the event, with all three medallists at the Olympics under the famous stars and stripes. The first time in history this had happened.

Newer and younger athletes such as world 2015 champion Danielle Williams and Olympic champion Brianna Rollins (now McNeal) were emerging.

It seemed as if the 100m hurdles was entering a new era, with Sally Pearson almost getting lost in the mix after having to watch it all unfold with no way to intervene.

However, this made it all the better when she finally got to return to the track at the Australian Championships in April 2017.

The race itself was by no means here greatest performance. But the mere feeling of being able to soar over the hurdles like she had done in the past made it one of the most emotional races of her career.

Now after two seasons of making headlines for the wrong reason, the much loved Australian icon this time went about her business quietly.

The name that was now on everyone’s mind was Kendra Harrison, with the world record holder remaining the big favourite to win the world championships in 2017.

Harrison was sweeping all before her, winning every single race up to the World Championships. Meanwhile Pearson, while fit again, was merely in the mix.

She was still up there competing alongside the world’s best athletes. But at the same time she wasn’t exactly setting the world alight.

But despite Harrison’s dominance, London 2017 posed a different prospect altogether.

This was Sally Pearson’s turf, the venue where the experienced veteran had won an Olympic title in 2012, and the same competition she had already clinched a gold and silver in.

Her second-placed finish and seasons best time of 12.48s at the London Anniversary Games had also shown she was still a danger and was more than capable of making life uncomfortable for the world’s best athletes.

At the championships, anything was possible. It soon showed during the semi-finals when the highly fancied 24-year-old world champion Williams crashed out of the competition.

Meanwhile Pearson not only made it through safely, but also managed to run by far the fastest time of the heats and semi-finals with an impressive 12.53.

When the final came, it saw two of the Olympic medallists from London 2012, Pearson and Dawn Harper-Nelson line up. The pair were the only two from that final to have returned.

But little did anyone know that, just as they did five years ago, the two oldest athletes in the field would triumph over the younger ones.

As ever, Kendra Harrison got an explosive start, but so did Pearson. And as the hurdles wore on and on, Pearson didn’t let up. She edged ahead of the world leader into the lead and despite a late surge from her rival Harper-Nelson, the Australian surged ahead and achieved the improbable.

In a flash, the comeback was complete and Pearson’s face was overcome with joy. The new champion sprinted away in celebration, shouting “Oh my god!” multiple times as her achievement quickly sunk in.

It had all seemed too much to achieve. Too many injuries, too many setbacks, too many new and younger contenders.

But just as she had done in 2012 in the same stadium, Sally Pearson had found the extra grain of desire needed to topple all the obstacles around her.

And of course, she always believed that she would do it.

“It was just a matter of realising that it had all happened,” said Pearson after the race “the emotion had just poured out of my body when I crossed the finish line. I don’t think it was shock it was more like ‘yes I did what I wanted to do’.”

Now with the 2019 World Championships on the horizon, the champion again finds herself having to come back from another serious injury.

But if her last comeback was anything to go by, you would be foolish to place to doubt that she can once again produce a sensational, triumphant comeback.

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First published on: 3 January, 2019 11:34 am

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