Aussie golden girls were faster, smarter, stronger
If this was a page, not a computer screen, it would be horribly smudged with tears today and you’d barely be able to read a word.
Overnight, two wonderful Australian sporstwomen won Olympic gold medals, each as thrilling as the next. First Anna Meares destroyed England’s velodrome queen, Victoria Pendleton. Then in the faint light of an Australian dawn, as rain tumbled on the London track, Sally Pearson won the one we’d all been waiting for, the 100m hurdles.
Afterwards, Sally said she felt like she’s walking on clouds. We all do this morning, Sally. After a stuttering first 10 days, Australia is finally making its presence felt at these Olympics, with victories we can all savour whether we’re once-every-four-years enthusiasts or diehard members of the Oi! Oi! Oi! brigade with Southern Cross tattoos on our necks.
Sport is narrative. It is about storylines. It has never been entirely about sweaty bodies chasing balls or running fast or pedalling around a track, and would be fundamentally dull if it was. Anna Meares and Sally Pearson have more engaging back stories than most.
Meares, of course, broke her neck in a race in America in early 2008. She flew home afterwards in economy class in sheer agony. True story. You wouldn’t see a footballer do that.
A less well remembered part of the Meares back story is that she won gold in Athens in the 500m time trial. She never got to defend her title. The event was unceremoniously axed by the IOC to make way for two new gold medal events in the fledgling Olympic sport of BMX.
Meares had to find new ways to put those enormously powerful thighs to good use. She concentrated on the sprint and the keirin, events which require as much smarts as strength. Meares, by her own admission, wasn’t particularly smart with her tactics this week in the keirin, in which she was beaten out of the medals by British crowd favourite “Queen” Victoria Pendleton.
Last night, in a velodrome packed with a host of famous important people like Kobe Bryant and Steph Rice, as well as members of the royal family, Pendleton and Meares faced off for gold in the final of the sprint. That event is oddly misnamed. It’s a race where competitors often come to a near-stop mid race, a cat and mouse test of wits, agility and speed.
Meares, it has to be said, outwitted Pendleton. The Brit races best from behind, unleashing her speed after coasting in her rival’s slipstream. Meares never let her play her own game. In both races in the best-of-three-final, she sat on Pendleton’s back, winning the first race one on a technicality and the second with a decisive burst to secure the gold.
The race is about “decision making, mental toughness, being able to perform under pressure,” Meares said afterwards. It was also about sportsmanship, and the Meares/Pendleton hug after the race was a moment in British/Australian sport reminiscent off the Flintoff/Lee Ashes embrace in 2005. What a champion.
If Anna Meares had the pressure of being the underdog among a fanatical pro-British crowd, Sally Pearson had the even more onerous pressure of being the clear cut 100m hurdles favourite.
Pearson was unbeaten this year until she slipped up, literally, at a meet in London before the Olympics. Pearson’s slip occurred on a wet track, in the warm-up before a heat. She recovered to make the final, but was narrowly beaten by American Kellie Wells.
Wells made an interesting comment after that race. She said: “I didn’t come here to race, I came here to execute.”
As you watched Sally Pearson before this morning’s race, you could see she was in the zone where she wasn’t concerned about her opponents either. This was her race to win or lose. She was here to execute, to do what she does and has been doing better than anyone for two years now.
A nod, not a wave, to the camera, onto the blocks, and she was off. Pearson had her customary brilliant start and was always in front. American Dawn Harper closed late, giving the whole of Australia a bit of a Black Caviar-at-Ascot moment, but Sally won clearly. The official margin was just two hundredths of a second, but to the naked eye it was clear cut. This wasn’t James Magnussen in reverse. It was a skinny but decisive victory. Or so we thought at first glance…
An agonising delay, then finally, the result. And then the screams of elation from the Sally we all remember from that unforgettable interview with Seven’s Pat Welsh in Beijing. Four years on, she wasn’t quite the space cadet in her trackside interview with Nine’s Tony Jones. There was no wild-eyed “did you see me?”.
But Sally still had that unscripted naturalness which Australia has come to love. Talking about her train of thought during the race, she said: “I said to myself, ‘OK you’re winning, stay here’.”
“I didn’t realise how close Dawn Harper was and [when I crossed the line] I went ‘oh man, that was really close’.” And then that fabulous line: “nothing hurts at the moment, I feel like I’m just walking on clouds.”
Pearson also thanked her mother, who raised her as a single Mum, making all sorts of sacrifices in her dedication to her daughter’s athletics career. “To be honest, I think every single family of an athlete out here has sacrificed a lot to help them pursue their dreams,” she said.
Sally Pearson has become a woman both of supreme speed and perspective. She and Anna Meares are everything we wish our sportspeople could be, both on and off the field of competition.
And now, because we haven’t done this for a few days, and to celebrate our Olympians’ awesomeness, here is a picture of a chicken
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…