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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Sally Pearson's book reveals the extremes she went to for Olympic Gold

Sally Pearson's book reveals the extremes she went to for Olympic Gold

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Olympic champion Sally Pearson's sacrifice, injury hurdles and a golden bond

NOVEMBER 03 2013

"IF I'm going to win a gold medal at the Olympics, then I have to win the world championships."

My declaration to Sharon came in our debrief session looking back at 2010. I then added: "These two years are going to be the biggest of my life."

My coach understood where I was coming from, but wanted to hedge her bets.

"I agree that if you are to win a gold medal in London, you have to medal at the world championships."

"No. I have to win," I repeated. She seemed to get the message.

I wanted to be in the shape of my life for the 2011 world championships, which were being held in Daegu, South Korea, in August.

"I don't want to let anything stop me," I said. '" want to make sure I do everything I can to run fast and become the best."

I'd already made one important decision about a key area: my diet.

One of the things I could control was what went into my body, and this was highlighted to me by a fellow athlete. What started out as an innocent conversation over lunch ended up being a life-changing moment, and a potentially dangerous one.

I'd spoken about how I thought I needed to get a little bit leaner and maybe drop my skinfolds, but hadn't really looked into it.

"You can start by not eating those things, for a start,' she said, pointing to what I thought was a healthy chicken and salad sandwich.

By the end of the lunch I had a whole different outlook on food. I clearly had no idea about eating properly. Not that I ate badly by any stretch, but this was a whole new world.

From that point on I was obsessed. Major carbohydrates such as pasta and bread - which were my two favourites - were out. Any little treats like chocolate or biscuits were gone, and I started measuring to the gram how much cereal I had each morning.

In my head I'd suddenly convinced myself that controlling my diet was going to win me the world championships.

If I remained anal to the extreme, then I would win. If I didn't, I would lose. It was a scary mindset to have, which I was to find out later.

On the track Sharon and I had again decided to limit my hurdling throughout the Australian domestic series because of my back.

It worked for the most part until I got itchy feet after training had been going so well. A compromise was reached and we included the hurdles in my program at Perth and at the national championships.

While we were keen to mimic a lot of 2010 in our preparation, there was one major difference - Kieran was coming with me.

We'd both struggled badly being away from each other for three months and agreed we couldn't go through that again. His business was up and running, but financially we could handle him being away.

More importantly, for my sanity I needed him.

His presence was going to make going back to Cologne bearable. I'd come to the realisation that it was one of those places that was good to visit on holiday but not to stay in for too long.

I found there was a combination of little things that conspired to wear you down. Not many of the locals spoke English, which did get to me after a while. The weather was always bad, and I couldn't even chill out in front of the TV because there was nothing that was watchable.

Instead, I ended up spending hours stuck in the apartment looking at downloads of my favourite shows on the small screen of my computer.

What I also found myself looking at was my body in the mirror - all the time. Too much of the time. I kept looking to see if I was lean. In my mind I wasn't - what I was seeing was still the slightly chubby Sally from the previous year - but everyone kept telling me how fit I was looking.

It was weird.

"AM I peaking too early?"

I was asking Sharon the same question over and over.

"No, Sal, these are the times you should have been running last year, but for a whole host of reasons it didn't happen."

That seemed to make sense to me.

"'So you're not surprised?"

"No, I'm not surprised."

The final race before the world championships was in London at Crystal Palace, which was a track that historically was slower than the others. I was determined to keep my unbeaten streak going and felt good in the heat, winning it in 12.55.

There were no mistakes in the final, which I won comfortably in 12.58 from Danielle Carruthers (12.67) and Tiffany Porter (12.78).

Now all everyone wanted to talk about was the pressure associated with going into a major championships as the raging favourite. I actually the liked the position. While it's on a different scale, I was always favourite as a junior going into races, and got used to it, so being expected to win wasn't really daunting.

It gave me confidence, as I knew these girls had to chase me. And they had a lot more work to do than I did. I already knew I was in great shape. I was healthy, and they were the ones who had to pick up their game.

"You want to be the best in the world and that's what comes with it,' I told journalists after the race. "I'd rather be running fast and have everyone talking about me than not running fast. I am conscious of (the added pressure), but that's what I want."

We arrived in Daegu two weeks early, which turned out to be a masterstroke as it put me in an extra bubble of focus. It meant I could concentrate on exactly what I was there to do, and didn't have to stress about anything. I was in an apartment with a great bunch of girls, including Alana Boyd, who was my roommate, Dani Samuels and Hayley Butler.

The village was fun, but the food was shocking. There was a lot of outrage, but I didn't let it worry me. My attitude was that there was nothing you could really do about it, so you just had to find a way to deal with it.

Everything was tracking perfectly until I felt it go again.

I was halfway through a hurdles session when my back tightened. I made the mistake of choosing to ignore it and pressed on. With each hurdle I felt the muscles getting tighter and tighter before it finally grabbed.

Then I couldn't move.

It wasn't as bad as the 2009 episode, because I was able to get moving after a few seconds, so I wasn't totally freaking out. I went straight over to the physio and we were all confident that some rest and anti-inflammatory tablets would do the trick.

As long as it didn't affect my program in the final week leading up to my first-round race, then I was able to remain calm.

After a few days off I went down to the small 150m track at the village for an activation session with the physio. He had me complete a series of drills to see how my back responded, and I knew Sharon was freaking out.

She wasn't happy, but I went along with his directions. I survived that and was determined to stick with the program that had been mapped out months ago.

The following day I had a sprint session and it was terrible.

'This feels absolute crap,' I said to Sharon.

My calmness was starting to break.

"I'm running so slow. What I am doing today is not going to get me a gold medal at the world championships. What the hell is going on?"

And with that I stomped off and started to walk a lap.

I'd also asked Sharon what she thought the speed of my run-throughs equated to for the 100m. She estimated 11.5. That just made me even angrier, because an 11.5 pace wasn't going to win me a gold medal in the hurdles.

As I started the walk, Eric Hollingsworth approached and asked if he could join me. It was good to have someone other than Sharon to talk to about these things, and I wanted Eric's thoughts on what he'd just seen.

"Did you see that? It was just crap and slow," I said.

He agreed, which was all I wanted to hear.

"Yeah, it was slow and I know what you mean that it's not going to get you a gold medal, but you know you are better than that," Eric said. "You know that at the world championships you're going to be."

Before we'd left for overseas, I'd sat down with Sharon and had a heart-to-heart. While the odd blow-up was inevitable, we really needed to be on the same page.

"Can you please just hear me out sometimes,' I told my coach. "I really need you to trust me as much as I trust you. It's really important because these are the two biggest years of my career, and I can't let anyone else disrupt it.

"We know what we've got to do to make me the best. Others don't understand - they haven't been with me for that long. They don't get it. They don't see me every day. They don't know what my body is like."

This resolve was put to its greatest test in the final week leading into the first round of the 100m hurdles. I was scheduled to do a hurdles session out of the blocks, but as we walked to the track, Sharon suggested a change. At that stage I was unaware of her motives.

"I don't know whether hurdling is a good idea today,' she said.


"You've had a fair bit of treatment on your back and I think maybe it's too much to be hurdling today. Maybe we just do a warm-up stretch and then hurdle tomorrow."

That meant I would be doing a hurdles session three days before I raced - the first round was on Friday, day seven of the championships - which normally wasn't what we did. I didn't like breaking routine ahead of big races and I suggested we make a decision after the warm-up and just see how I was feeling.

Sharon agreed, but unbeknown to me she was copping heat from team management. Eric and the medical team had effectively ordered Sharon not to let me go over the hurdles. He wanted me in cotton wool, as any sort of minor setback would end my championships.

After feeling good in the warm-up, I went and started setting up the blocks. Sharon just let me go as normal. The track was quite slippery and I needed someone to stand on the blocks.

"Hey Eric, can you stand on my blocks for me?"

He looked at me and then Sharon. 'Yeah, sure."

I completed a couple of starts without issue and then Eric had to leave for a meeting.

My back had not been an issue, and as I was warming down, Sharon came over and told me about the blow-up. Just before he'd left, as I was at the other end of the track,

Eric had walked past Sharon and said,
"This better not fucking lose her a gold medal."

"No, it won't," was Sharon's response.

I was so happy when my coach told me the story. Sharon had shown faith in me to know what my body was capable of doing in that session. Instead of buckling under pressure and listening to the medical team, which she'd done in the past, she'd trusted me.

It was a pivotal moment in our relationship.

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