Athletics - Hurdler Pearson back on track after lost years

By Ian Ransom
FILE PHOTO: Sally Pearson of Australia celebrates after winning the gold medal in the women's 100m hurdles at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, August 1, 2014. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Sally Pearson of Australia celebrates after winning the gold medal in the women's 100m hurdles at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, August 1, 2014. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett/File Photo

By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Having come back from two years ruined by injuries, the tears flowed freely for Sally Pearson after the former Olympic 100m hurdles champion booked her ticket to the world championships.

The 30-year-old Australian went to the national trials in Sydney on Sunday nauseous with nerves and on an empty stomach.

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She took the starting blocks without any last-minute calming words from a mentor, having decided months before to coach her own way back to the top.

Within 12.74 seconds the agony was over, as the blonde-haired Gold Coast athlete crossed the line in her heat in a time quick enough to qualify for London.

She then posted a wind-assisted 12.53 in the final to capture an eighth national title in the 100m hurdles before finally losing out to her emotions.

"For sure, there was relief," Pearson told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.

"I'd been out for two years. I missed the national championships last year, missed the Olympics and the worlds and the world indoor championships, so I haven't been at the top level.

"And for me to come out on Sunday and produce results like that is reassuring and exciting. It's also a big confidence boost."

Since winning gold at the London Games in an Olympic record 12.35 seconds, Pearson's track career has been blighted by debilitating injuries, thwarted comebacks and dashed dreams.

The 2011 world champion battled back from hamstring strains to win silver in her title defence at Moscow in 2013 but missed Beijing two years later after shattering her left wrist in a sickening fall at the Golden Gala meeting in Rome.

The injury, described as a "bone explosion" by doctors, was so traumatic that Pearson feared her lower arm would need to be amputated.

Nearly two years on, there are constant reminders.

"I literally can't bend my wrist backwards, I can't do a proper push-up. I have to do them on my finger tips," said Pearson, the 2011 IAAF female athlete of the year.

"Even if I pick up a dinner plate, I have to do it in a different way to be able to pick it up properly.

"I'm thinking after the Commonwealth Games I'll be getting some more surgery on it anyway to take out the plates and screws and see how much more movement I can get out of it again."

MENTAL TOLL

Hometown hero Pearson will be the face of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games next year but her Sydney results have left her encouraged that she could produce something special before then.

Given the trials of recent years, she is reluctant to make any big statements but a podium performance in London would be a rich reward for her iron perseverance.

It would scarcely make up for the angst of missing her Olympic title defence at Rio, however, her desperate bid to come back from a serious Achilles injury shattered by another hamstring strain.

"I think it really took a mental toll on me trying to get back onto the track in four months, all the stress, all the emotion," she said.

"Getting another injury with my hamstring, that was just the final straw... In a way, mentally it was a relief to not go to Rio because it was so draining on me.

"But physically I was just a mess. My body was so wrecked. I was due for a break."

Days after the injury, a defiant Pearson fronted the media to declare herself far from a spent force and said her peak as an athlete was yet to come.

As she prepares for a six-week training bloc in the Gold Coast before jetting off to Europe for competition, the defiance has been replaced by a calm and a touch of realism.

"It would be nice to be able to run back in the 12.20s again but I guess as an athlete and a coach you have to be realistic about what you can achieve and what you hope to achieve," she said.

"I'm not going to rule anything out but I start back training today after three days off and have probably never been in such a calm and confident head-space before.

"But I'm not thinking about medals at this point in time because I'm actually enjoying what I'm doing so much.

"I'm just enjoying being fast, fit and strong again... I haven't felt like that in a number of years."

(Editing by John O'Brien)

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