Sally Pearson takes 100m hurdles in 2017 London WC, photo by Martin Bateman
Sally Pearson is one of the finest 100m hurdlers of all times. An Olympic gold medalist (2012), as well as gold medalist in the 100m hurdles in 2011 WC Daegu and 2017 WC London. She also has a pair of silver medals, one, an Olympic medal (2008) and one silver in 2013 WC Moscow. Sally also took a gold indoors, in Istanbul 2012 and then, a silver in Sopot 2014. In Commonwealth Games, Sally took gold in 2010 Delhi and 2014 Glasgow, plus a bronze for the 4x100m in 2006 Melbourne.
Sally Pearson has a PB of 12.28 over the 100m hurdles. She retired on August 5, 2019. This interview was done, for the most part, in April 2019.
13 Questions for Sally Pearson
Sally Pearson finally hung up her spikes last year. I have been privileged to see most of her career highlights – medals at two Olympics, three World Championships, two Commonwealth Games and two World Indoors. The last time I saw her run was in the World Relays in Yokohama in May 2019.
I was also there when she suffered that horrendous injury (“bone explosion” of her left forearm and wrist break) in Rome 2015 and that false start at the 2010 Commonwealth Games (See https://www.runblogrun.com/2018/04/the-2010-commonwealth-games-womens-100-meters-recalled-by-j-stuart-weir.html)
Most of this interview was conducted in Yokohama 2019. I approached her in the event hotel and she said, “Sure. Meet me after breakfast tomorrow”. I never doubted that she would show up on time and she did. Sally Pearson was a superb athlete and is a first class person.
Sally Pearson, the joy of victory, London 2017 WC, photo by Martin Bateman
1. Are you fully fit?
Fully fit in terms of injuries, yes. Probably a month away from where I want to be in terms of competitiveness. Because I had so much time off last year after the injury, I had to build myself up if a lot more slowly than other years. So injury wise fully fit but a month away from where I want to be hurdles wise. I started hurdling in February. Hurdles is a frustrating event because now I’ve got my speed back, I have to match that with my rhythm and technique. It’s taking a bit longer than I would like.
2. It is difficult as an Australian to be in a different calendar zone from Europe and USA?
It’s all I know. I’m so used to it. From 2006 I’ve been doing two major seasons each year professionally. It works for me – I know it doesn’t work for everyone. I know I can get the qualifiers out early, then get back into base training to be ready for the second half of the year.
3. One career highlight?
It’s so hard because there are several which have a different meaning for me. I think I would say London 2017 because I did it by myself, after having two years off from major competition and doing it while no one else thought I could.
4. Someone said that London 2017 was about two old ladies – you and Dawn Harper-Nelson. Why were you able to see off the younger athletes?
I think part of that is because of experience -and I hate to say that as well because I won medals when I was inexperienced – but I think that is the only thing it came down to on the day. With experience, we know how to control ourselves during the rounds and during the final as well. We know what we have to do and what is expected of us. That’s not saying that the other girls don’t know that. But the only thing that I can put that final race turned to is experience and mental toughness that we both have. We’re both fierce competitors and that’s what we want to do.
5. Who has been your greatest rival?
The obvious one is Dawn because we had been running against each other and getting medals together for a long time. Since 2008. That’s when I first saw her on the circuit. I think I raced her once before the Beijing Olympics and then she comes out and wins it! And then it’s been back and forth back and forth ever since. We both missed Rio. I missed Beijing (worlds 2015) and she was knocked out in the semis. If we have a good time we have it together; if we have a bad time we have it together!
A new athlete, one that I really enjoyed running against is Keni Harrison. I don’t know what it is but even last year in the World Indoors, when I wasn’t 100%, I was still excited to be in her heat. She runs really well and she gets out really well and is a real competitor. I like to run against fierce competitors who want to win as much as I do. When I think about that I get excited.
6. 2015-18 with the two bad injuries did you ever think of just giving up?
Of course, always! I think I retired 1000 times during that time. I think I retired last week as well! It is such a frustrating sport that we do question ourselves, why do we continue doing it. I just think that at the end of the day the highs outweigh the lows. You know the highs are coming so you hold on to the hope and keep pushing for it and you quickly forget the lows. As much as my lows have always have been significant, you can quickly forget about them well you have a victory.
7. Jonathan Edwards once said to me “I love to compete”; do you resonate with that?
Definitely I’ve always loved to compete. I would have thought that is a given for every athlete who goes out there. I would ask: if you don’t love competing why are you doing sport?
8. What is your approach to 2019?
I don’t think I have a choice about how I approach 2019 or 2020 because of what happened last year. I have to take it all week by week how my body is feeling. Everything is going good but things can change. I’m 32 so you have to change the way you train and be smarter about it. I feel I’m still building up from last year’s injury and feel that I am a month away from where I would like to be with hurdles. I’m not thinking about 2020. I am just building myself up towards the world championship. And then I’ll start building towards Tokyo. The lateness of the world championship means that I won’t be able to have too much of a break. You will almost have to be training through the World Championship to keep your endurance training up for 2020. And especially with the Australian championships likely to be in April. If so it’s a case of continuing to build and better myself this year for next year.
9. How does self coaching work?
The setting up my programme part is quite fun. I quite enjoy doing that because I know what works for me. I think you have a bit of an advantage because when I write a programme I know what the session is going to feel like. Perhaps it’s a bit scary writing the programme, knowing that you have to do it and knowing what I will feel like. I have never had a problem with motivation in training and have never needed someone to tell me to keep going because I know that I want to be there and I want to do it – so it’s easy for me to push myself. The tricky part, perhaps, is knowing who’s talking in my head, the athlete or the coach. I am a very competitive athlete so I need a very sensible coach.
10. Does the athlete ever ask the coach for a day off?
Definitely and if I need a day off, I give myself a day off. But that is very rare because I think my body is conditioned to training so I don’t need many days off.
11. What was your best race ever?
2011 World Championships because it was flawless and the time was 12.28 as well. 2011 had been a very good year and in those World Championships I was just ready to run really fast. I think from the Commonwealth Games 2010 I’d just missed one training session before the world championships. So I was in very good shape, had had no setbacks and was very determined to win. And winning the World Championship meant that I was going to win the Olympics – don’t ask me why I thought that – I just did. I just felt that if I was going to win the Olympics in 2012, I had to win the 2011 World Championships on the way.
12. Poor old Dawn running 12.37 in London 2012 and losing?
Everyone was in good shape and that’s what it took. I was the best in the world at that time and when you’re running against the best in the world you have to step up. Dawn did that and ran a PR, a great time and still didn’t win. But it made it exciting to see where female hurdling was at.
13. Any plans for after athletics?
Not at the stage. I think when I retire, I will give myself some time to be a normal person – I may need some time to figure that out since I don’t really know! I’m looking forward to it but it’s hard to know what you want to do having given so much of yourself to the sport for over 20 years, it’s hard to think what else will give you the same satisfaction and how to find something that you could love just as much.
Sally Pearson and the writer, Stuart Weir, when they were a wee bit younger (2010), photo of Stuart Weir
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