sábado, 14 de enero de 2012

Sally, Now We Want You to Break the World Record

Sally Peason competing at Daegu World championships
Photo: Michael Steele/ Getty Image Asia Pac

             Sometimes we feel frustrated female track and field records are so out of reach. With the exception of the newly introduced disciplines as pole vault, hammer throw or steeplechase, every all-time ranking is led by a woman who is bearing an age she is more likely to be seen keeping company to her grandchildren than around an athletic track. In 12 out of 23 Olympic female disciplines, the world record dates back to the 1980s. In 3 others it was achieved in the 1990s. As Valerie Adams says “things happened in those days for a reason and people did things for a reason. We cannot go back in time and change that.” Therefore we can figure out how awesome Sally Pearson’s 2011 campaign was. For the first time in many years, one of the  old-time mighty records was challenged by the Australian athlete, on occasion of the last World championships. In Daegu, Sally clocked a massive 12.28, the best mark at the 100m hurdles event in 19 years, and only 7 hundredths of a second short of the 12.21 world record Yordanka Donkova achieved in Stara Zagora the 20th August 1988. Thus, Pearson placed herself 4th in the all-time lists, just behind Donkova, Ginka Zagortcheva, the other golden Bulgarian hurdler (12.25), and Russian-Swede Ludmila Engqvist (12.26). In spite of setting both excellent PBs, silver and bronze medallists, Danielle Carruthers and reigning Olympic champion Dawn Harper, were left miles behind by the powerful Aussie. 

We can say Sally Pearson reached a new level in 2011. She won every one of her 16 outings, with the exception of the last one, the Ivo Van Damme meeting, where she lost the Diamond League title to Carruthers, due to an unlucky fall. Sally also built up her season flawlessly, peaking at the right time: the World championships. Athletes from countries as South Africa, New Zealand or Australia, whose summer track and field season is held between January and April, have to be careful, because they can reach top form too soon. It is a mistake which has ruined intermediate hurdler L.J Van Zyl’s chances at global championships in August more than once. Sally Pearson used the Australian season to work on her speed and speed endurance, lining up only in 100m and 200m flat races, besides the 4x100m relay, where she helped her country qualify for Daegu. She was not seen over the barriers until late March, prior to the national championships in Melbourne. There she achieved an historic treble, becoming the first Australian doing so since Pam Ryan accomplished it in 1968. However, the ambitious Pearson was not altogether happy, because neither got a personal best at the flat events nor accomplished her target of breaking the national record, which owns former world indoor champion Melinda Gainsford with 11.12, since 1994.  

Then she stopped competing and devoted two more months to training. Her coach was especially enthusiast of these workouts. She said Sally had improved in every aspect and expected huge things for the summer. Considering Pearson owns arguably the best technique in the circuit, is also the fastest between hurdles and had worked her speed endurance to the point she could maintain an equal pace from the beginning to the end of a race, it was easy to bet she would not have any match for the upcoming competitions: “She only need to attack the barriers more aggressively and her technique will triumph.” (1) On the other hand, her husband pointed out Sally had followed a strict diet of rice, white fish, and fresh vegetables and as a consequence had lost 6kg. (2) Being much lighter helped Sally out for her remarkable season. The Aussie hurdler was not back in competition until June. After a preliminary local outing, she travelled to Europe. At her first meeting, in Lausanne, she already ran under her 12.50 best, though in windy conditions, and in the second in Birmingham she set a new area record (12.48). Sally kept her nice shape through July and August, winning two more Diamond League meetings. In Daegu, the Aussie was the unanimous favourite to win her first global medal and she proved it throughout the championships. At the semi-finals, she already established a new continental record, running in an awesome 12.36. Then came her groundbreaking display at the final. 

Three people are behind Sally Pearson’s stunning success over the barriers, though the athlete would say she also counts with the valuable contribution of a gym coach, masseur, physiotherapist, biomechanics scientist, sport psychologist and manager Robert Joske. The first one is Anne McLellan, the woman who brought her to this world the 19th September 1986. She was a single mother who could not afford to buy a car to carry her daughter to the stadium for training, but endured two jobs in order to guarantee the means to her athletic career. From their native Sidney they moved to Gold Coast, Queensland, when Sally was a little kid. Anne was the first person who realised about the immense talent her daughter had for sport, so she asked Coach Sharon Hannan to take her at a state Little Athletics carnival in Townsville, where 12-year-old Sally was competing. Thereafter Anne was the perfect mother for a kid involved in sport: "It is funny because at the moment there are kids in my training squad whose parents are always there every single session watching them train. My mum was never there, which was a great thing. Then you can just go and be yourself without your parents watching over you. She really stayed away and did not put pressure on me ... she just finished work, came to pick me up and took me home to have dinner. She was just a normal mum who did her normal duties and let me do what I wanted to do." (3)
Anne McLellan knew the right person to care for Sally in the stadium was Sharon Hannan and accordingly never tried to interfere in her coaching job. Hannan has assisted to Sally’s rise from a promising little girl to the world class athlete she is now. They have already been 14 years working together. Some say they often fight (4) but respect and mutual trust are always present and results are there. Finally, Kieran Pearson is the other key person in Sally’s life. They met at their senior year at Helensvale State High School and their long term relationship brought to marriage after Beijing Olympic Games. Kieran is not related to sport: he is a maintenance plumber. Due to their different jobs they cannot see each other for months, while Sally is touring in Europe. Yet she had warned him, since the beginning, sport was first and Kieran is as patient as he can be, always supporting her wife’s career. “You have to be selfish if you want to succeed in something”, states Sally. (3)
         However, it is Sally Pearson’s huge commitment and personality which rounds it all. She pushes so hard during workouts, she often finish vomiting. Sally hates training but Hannan says she does not remember a single day her charge had missed a session since the days the young athlete had to catch two or three buses to get to the stadium. Teens usually have lot of interests and like to have fun but Sally only had one passion. Cathy Freeman was her inspiration and all she wanted was to become one day an Olympic champion like her. Sally has endeavoured many hours in caring about every single detail of her technique and this is why it is now so flawless. (5) Only Susanna Kallur’s can be compared with hers but the Swede former European champion has been long injured.  
Sally Pearson running the 4x100 relay in Daegu World Championships
Photo: Mark Dadswell/ Getty Images Asia Pac
             Sally is highly competitive, a true fighter who believes in her own chances and only accepts victory. Because of her determination she won the 2001 Australian junior 100m title as she was only 14. Two years later, she obtained an extraordinary world youth gold medal over the hurdles in Sherbrooke, which she followed up with a bronze at the World juniors in Grossetto, this time at the dash event. Pearson is a versatile runner who can master several events and Sharon Hannan is glad about that, stating it is important not to specialise too soon and dispose of a sort of different skills. (6) Sally had an unfortunate senior debut at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, stumbling and crashing out of the race, but made amends reaching the semi-finals at Osaka World championships in both 100m and 100m hurdles, besides achieving a huge PB (11.14) at the former event. However, Sally was not glad enough with her performance. (7) She believed she could do much better and she would prove it at the Olympic Games in Beijing. Concentrating in the hurdles event, Pearson got a bullet star and only Dawn Harper managed to catch her. After the confirmation of her wonderful silver medal in a blanket finish, the Aussie burst in tears, then went to an effusive celebration with bronze medallist Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, both athletes leaping and leaping together like happy kids.
            After her breakthrough, Sally Pearson expected a lot from the 2009 season but an injury back marred her preparation for Berlin World championships, where she ended a disappointing 7th. That result influenced enormously the emotional Gold Coast athlete, who needed months to overcome her depression. The occasion for resurging back would be the Commonwealth Games in India. Pearson false started at the 100m final, along with Laura Turner, but both were allowed to keep competing. The Australian won the decisive race just to be disqualified afterwards, after England raised a protest. However in her favourite event, Pearson grab unchallenged her first major international title. The brave athlete concluded her participation in Delhi being enrolled in a strange for her 4x400 relay. She struggled to the point she collapsed after crossing the line 5th, having to be helped out the track by mates and officials. After her busy Commonwealth Games, Sally went to Thailand in family holidays. She was so exhausted she passed all the first day sleeping, but afterwards true to her lively spirit she enjoyed rafting, riding on elephants and visiting one island afer another in the lovely South East Asian country. (8)

              Sally’s disqualification at last Commonwealth Games was a rare circumstance in her career. There is a rule Sharon Hannan set in training: simulating competition, if you false start the workout is over. Thus Sally is well-taught in how to start a race properly, specially acknowledging her quick outburst is one of her main goals. After her unlucky 100m final, Sally found herself in the same bus than the English official who had made the protest which cost her gold. She approached him and said there were not hard feelings and wished all the best for the girl who got the bronze medal (after her disqualification). The official was really impressed with Sally’s gesture. As a local newspaper noted, “Sally Pearson entered these Commonwealth Games as a hurdler, but will leave as a personality.” (8) The same sportsmanship was observed by the Gold Coast athlete as she was named best athlete of the year by the IAAF in a controversial decision: “It was a little surprising that I won. Vivian was a three-time world champion and Valerie dominates every time she is out there. She is the role model athlete everyone should look up.” (9) Perhaps Vivian Cheruiyot deserved it more but it is good to see the prize was given to such down-to-earth athlete. She is also an extraordinary inspiration for children, because of her outstanding personality. She is just the opposite of a diva. Sally comes from a humble background and has not changed a bit after her sportive success. She keeps being approachable and human.  

            It seems a long time since Sally Pearson has been around. Yet she is only 25, still so young to aim for much higher heights. This year, she might still improve on her sensational 2011 season, winning the Olympic gold medal and shattering the old world record. For the moment she has just launched her campaign today in Brisbane, after overcoming in only one week and a half a quadriceps injury. Her winning time was a scintillating 11.25 for the 100m dash. There are many reasons to hope for.   

Down to Earth Idol Sally Pearson

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