Laureus World Sports Awards: Sally Pearson on her comeback in 2017 and plans for Commonwealth Games 2018
After being nominated for the Laureus World Comeback of the Year Award, Sally Pearson talks about her 2017 comeback and her hopes for the 2018 Commonwealth Games
As she crossed the finish line at the end of the 100m hurdles event at the 2017 World Championships at London, the enduring image of Sally Pearson was that of her incredulously mouthing ‘Oh my God’ over and over again.
Pearson, considered among the best track and field athletes to have emerged from Australia, had reason to be surprised.
The 30-year-old had not competed in a major competition for the last three years with wrist, hamstring and Achilles injuries hampering her progress at the height of her career.
But she cast away any doubts in her mind, as well as aspersions cast on her by doubters, to power to the gold medal in 12.59 seconds.
In a few weeks’ time, Pearson will find herself facing off against a decorated field of athletes and teams, including Roger Federer, Justin Gatlin, Valentino Rossi, FC Barcelona and Chapecoense, as she vies for the Laureus World Comeback of the Year Award.
Ahead of the award ceremony on 27 February, the Australian spoke to journalists about her comeback and her hopes for the 2018 Commonwealth Games at home. Excerpts:
It has been an amazing year for you. Can you just put into words what London meant?
I think for me, London meant that my resilience is probably at its best. I had to really tap into that and my belief with what I had to do. The task at hand was obviously to go to the World Championships. Obviously I wasn't the favourite to win, but in my mind, I was going out there as the favourite, even though I wasn't. So I had to really tap into my resilience and into my belief system and I found out that really worked. But I think at the end of the day, I felt really proud of what I did. I guess I've been proud of all my achievements, but this one tops them. What I did was pretty extraordinary and pretty surreal for me. To cross that finish line first was a real dream.
Was that the best moment of your career, even ahead of London 2012?
That's pretty hard. Obviously every race and every competition is very different, and winning the Olympic gold medal is every athlete's dream and obviously that was mine. But I think when you have all these injuries — my last Australian team before London 2017 was Glasgow in 2014 when I won the Commonwealth Games — it’s pretty hard. With physical injuries and mental scarring, because you are so upset and down on yourself, you have to figure out a way to get out of that. I think London 2017, is more of a different story than anything, and it was a different time in my career. I can't really compare the two because obviously the two were so different for different reasons. I think I'm proud of them the same.
The world’s media have voted for you to be a nominee for this year’s Laureus Awards. What is your reaction to that?
It’s incredible when have you always followed the Laureus Awards and you’ve seen all the legends who have been nominated for these awards. And then finally your name comes up as a nominee. You don’t think of being up for an award like this, and so I guess when that happens, it's like the cherry on top. It's pretty special and such a huge honour, especially because of the athletes I’m up against — Valentino Rossi is my husband's favourite. So he will be probably so excited that he might get down and propose to him, I’m not sure. Also being up against Roger Federer, as well, he's pretty much what sport means, and when you watch him play, is just absolutely incredible in how he handles himself. Yeah, it's a huge honour to be up against names like that. I never thought I would ever see the day to be alongside those sort of athletes.
You haven’t had just one comeback; you've had lots of comebacks. What keeps you running?
I guess it's just the answer that everyone gives: you love what you do. It’s what I get out of my sport. I have a huge passion for it and I'm having so much fun doing it. After the hard years, I wasn't obviously having that much fun, but deep down, I knew that I still loved the sport. That's why I kept going. It's enjoyable, and the people that I'm around, it's just so much fun and there’s so much support out there.
Do you reckon the fun and success outweighs the stress of all those injuries?
Yeah, I think so. I guess it's really hard for people to understand that. Don't get me wrong, I went through those questions: should I come back, and why am I coming back. I went through all of that? But I guess the positives outweighed the negatives. I came back slowly. I literally started on the first day of the athletics at the Rio Olympics and I just built my training up from there and progressed really well. I kept going and I was enjoying it, so I was like ‘why not’? I had to give it another shot, really. It's not a very nice feeling to know that injuries have made you retire from your sport. You want to retire on your own accord, and that's what I plan to do.
What does the Commonwealth Games mean to you? Since it is being held in your country, it must be a pretty amazing feeling?
Of course! This is my second time now competing at a Commonwealth Games in my home country. I'm obviously honoured to be a part of it. But at the end of the day, I've still got to run the trials. I've still got to have my name selected for the team. (I’ve) Got to jump through a few hoops first but if all goes well, I should be a part of that team. I think with the event being on the Gold Coast, while it's all happening and while it's all building up for the Games, is really impressive. You get to hear everyone get excited for it. I've been racing for about nine weeks now, so there's work to be done in that timeframe.
Are your preparations where you want them to be two months out?
I think so. I raced the state championships in Queensland on the weekend and ran a pretty good time, a season's best. I guess at this stage, every race, you want it to be a season best, or at least a fast and competitive time. So it bodes well for the Commonwealth Games at this stage, and I guess that's all I can say on that. My preparation is going very well and training is going well. It's pretty boring, but I guess boring is good.
Does competing at home, and so near to where you live, add extra pressure, or is it less pressure?
I've been trying to decide what I feel on this topic. I think it's a bit of both, really. You can't block out the pressure, obviously, from the home crowd. But at the same time, you have to work with it. There's obviously more pressure because people are coming to watch you race and everyone is really, really excited and can't wait to get there. As an athlete, you’re not really focusing on the fact that you're in your home country in your hometown. You're trying to focus on the job at hand. It's another race like you do at the Olympics or World Championships or another Commonwealth Games, just not in your town. So, I haven't really got a straight answer on that.
Where do the Tokyo Olympics sit in your mindset at the moment?
I'd definitely love to train for Tokyo. I've always wanted to do three Olympics. But obviously Rio cancelled it out for me. It would be nice, all going well with my body, to be able to get to Tokyo and be at my best. But it really depends on what my body says. Mentally, I would love to be able to get there. Mentally we all think we're a lot younger than what we are, so it's just a matter of being able to tie that in with what your body wants and see what happens. But it would be great to be there.
Everyone remembers Cathy Freeman being involved in the opening ceremony at the Sydney Olympics. If you were to be offered some sort of role in the lead-up to the day of the Commonwealth Games, would you accept or would you see it as something that would jeopardise your preparation?
I'd definitely accept it. I'd definitely love to be a part of what they have going, but it depends on what they think is right for the Opening Ceremony. I'm definitely going to the Opening Ceremony, so if they want me to do an extra job, then I'll be there.
In sum, no 20-something appears poised to wrest the mantle from the 30-somethings who have dominated the sport for so long.
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Federer hasn't won a tour clay title since Istanbul in 2015; his most recent Masters triumph on the surface was Madrid in 2012.