Athletics - Pearson: Interest in Australia "through the roof"

The number of young Australians taking up athletics has "gone through the roof" since her Olympic gold at the London Games in August according to 100 metres hurdler Sally Pearson

Athletics - Pearson: Interest in Australia "through the roof"

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Australia's Sally Pearson competes in her women's 100m hurdles round 1 heat and finishes first during the London 2012 Olympic Games (Reuters)

Pearson, who is also the world champion, said helping to encourage youngsters to take up a sport that is often overshadowed by cricket, rugby and Australian Rules Football was part of her motivation.

"It's really nice to be able to inspire the next generation, especially in Australia because we're struggling a lot with the coming athletes for our next generation of Olympians," the 26-year-old said at an International Association of Athletics Federations centenary event in Barcelona.

"The amount of work I can do to inspire them to come through is also really encouraging for me and motivates me to keep going," she added.

"I had a message sent to me saying you wouldn't believe it but this all-girls school in Queensland where I am from had 10 heats of the women's hurdles in high school.

"Usually it's hard to get one heat so it's really encouraging to know that little old me can just go out there and do a few races and inspire the younger generation."

Athletics Australia has a system called the "Target Talent Program" designed to identify and support promising athletes and help them move from the junior ranks to senior competition, a transition Pearson said was often a difficult one.

"We just have to try and grab those few athletes who have some potential and bring them through the ranks because it's not an easy sport to get through," Pearson said.

"Everyone has their issues with the governing body and it's just one of those things that I don't really pay attention to," she added when asked about Australia's athletics structure.

"I just focus on the things that I personally can control, just to get out there and try to inspire the next generation because I can't be an Olympian forever and so we need some more Olympians coming through.

"We need them to be breaking my Olympic record now and world records."

Turning to her goals for 2013, Pearson, who had just completed a training session before meeting journalists, said she would be focusing on the world championships in Moscow in August and did not plan to compete indoors.

"I keep saying I want to defend my world title," she added.

"But my coach said a good thing to me a few weeks ago: You don't have to defend your title, you've already got it and no one is going to take it away from you.

"It's just trying to get another medal really and that's my plan and I'll be working towards.

"I think one of my strongest attributes is that I train like I'm number two, I don't train like I'm the best.

"I know those girls want to beat me and I know that they're right there and that's what I keep in the back of my mind.

"Obviously I want to win but I have in the back of my mind that I'm not always the best in the world and if I want to continue to be the best in the world I have to be hungry for it. That's the biggest motivation an athlete can have in a race."

Pearson was speaking alongside Joanna Hayes, a retired hurdler whose eight-year-old Olympic record of 12.37 seconds Pearson broke in London with a time of 12.35. Bulgarian Yordanka Donkova holds the world record of 12.21 set in 1988.

Hayes, now 36 and expecting a second child, said it was hard to see where Pearson had any room for improvement.

"I think she's a technician and I think that she has really mastered the technique of hurdles and that's very important especially when you have her speed," Hayes said.

"Because she's so fast she could really have a problem hurdling and keeping her balance.

"It just takes a lot of focus and confidence to do what she's doing.

"She does have some competitors that are gunning for her and it's going to be fun to watch."

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