After an incredible run spanning 16 years, Australia’s golden girl of the track has called time on her career, hanging up her spikes one year out from Tokyo 2020, but her legacy of resilience will be timeless.
The sixth fastest hurdler in history, Sally Pearson made the emotional announcement this morning, citing a recent plague of injury as the main contributor to her decision.
“When you start begging your body for one more year, it’s not a good sign,” the 32-year-old explained.
“Every training session, I would say, ‘come on body, give me one more year, just one more year’ and my body just wasn’t up for it.”
Pearson suffered six injuries within the past six months, that were kept from the public eye and explained that these injuries were beginning to take a toll on her physically, mentally and emotionally.
“I just hit boiling point, I wasn’t going through that pain again, it was just too much to take and it was wearing me down as a person. I was unhappy, I was cranky and I just wasn’t a nice person to be around,” she said.
“I had huge doubts for the next year and whether I would be able to continue at the level I expect of myself and the level the country expects of me, if I were to go to the Olympics.
“I didn’t want to put myself through that again, 2018 was horrible with my Achilles and not being able to run at my hometown Comm Games was devastating and I just don’t think it’s fair to do that to myself and to my body again.
“These are Australia’s results as well, I wanted to be the best champion I could be for Australia to be proud of me.
“There’s been quite a few tears over the last few evenings, which have been hard, but that’s just part of it.
The Queenslander leaves behind a legacy and story that is hard to match – a dual-Olympian who has won Olympic gold and silver, a two-time World Champion and a two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist – but it wasn’t always smooth sailing for the Olympic Champion.
At her first Commonwealth Games in 2006, the then 21-year old tripped over a hurdle, falling to the ground and dashing her hopes of medalling. The following year at the World Championships, she just missed out on the finals.
At the 2010 edition of the Commonwealth Games, Pearson was out for redemption and she won gold in both the 100m hurdles and 100m sprint, but was later disqualified for a false start, stripping her of her 100m sprint medal.
Her injuries were well documented, breaking her wrist in 2015 and tearing her hamstring, meant Pearson missed out on Rio 2016.
Pearson coached herself back to fitness by 2017 and collected both a World Championships and Diamond League title, but in 2018 she faced injury again, in the form of a long-term Achilles issue which ruled her out of the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
The Olympic Champion was devastated, but not defeated and in 2019 she helped break an almost two-decade-old record in the 4x100m relay and secured herself both a World Championship and Tokyo 2020 qualifying time.
Despite her injuries, Pearson has left the track on a high and wants to inspire the next generation to pursue greatness in the same way she has.
“As a six-year-old, I always knew I was going to be good at something, I just didn’t know what,” she said.
“I always had belief in my abilities and found myself very inspired by the whole sporting scene. I just wanted to be a part of it and by the time I was 13, competing in an Olympics became my goal.”
Pearson wants to encourage not just children, but people of all ages to get involved in sport, because you never know where it will take you.
“If you haven’t found your passion yet, just give every sport a go. Find something you enjoy and work hard at it because you never know what’s going to happen,” she said.
“You may not be good at it from the very beginning, but some sports have a long lifespan and some people don’t peak until their mid 20’s or even late 30’s, it’s just a matter of finding something you’re really passionate about.
“I would say that’s what has got me this far, because I‘ve really loved and enjoyed what I’ve done.”
Another undeniable aspect of Pearson’s career is her resilience and that is also something she wants to pass on to the next generation of Australian athletes.
“Injury played a big part in my career, which in some cases also led to me missing out on quite a few major championships,” she said.
“As hard as it was at the time, for me, it was about accepting that injuries were a part of my job, a part of sport, a part of my career.
“There was always going to be disappointment, there would probably be more highs than lows but what got me through was remembering those highs and how much I love and am passionate about my sport, during the lows.
And for those vying for a spot at Tokyo 2020, the dual-Olympian offered some words of wisdom on hard work, motivation and pride.
“Being on the Olympic stage is the highest honour an athlete can have. This is what we work so hard for. When I stepped out onto that stage and onto that track, it was a moment of such pride,” she said.
“Pride in myself for getting there and pride in my team for the work they did to get me there.
“Enjoy it, look around, soak up all the excitement, but remember you are there to do a job and that is to compete for your country and for yourself. Focus, zone in on what you have to do, control the controllable and just go for it.
“Also remember that you get to go out there and do something you absolutely love and that’s what keeps you motivated, you’re competing in something that is so much bigger than you and you need to remind yourself how special it is to be a part of that.”
To this day, Pearson still holds the Olympic record for the 100m hurdles, which she set at London 2012.
Originally published for olympics.com.au