This Sally’s no lay down, she’s a lay down misère
Back in 2004, all eyes were on an Australian female hurdler as our Olympians readied themselves for Athens. Our strongest ever Olympic team would eventually win 17 gold medals, yet the pre-Games hype was all about Jana Pittman, who would go on to win nothing.
So here we are eight years on and again, the focus is on a female hurdler. Only this time it’s different. This time the hurdler is naturally charming, not attention-seeking. This time she’s fit and firing, not half broken down. This time you sense she’s doing it for all of us, not just herself.
Sally Pearson was 22 when she won silver in the 100m hurdles at Beijing. The race was thrilling. But it was THAT post-race interview with Seven’s Pat Welsh which really burned her name and face into our minds.
“OH MY GOD. YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME, RIGHT? IS THIS REAL?”
No one’s kidding you, Sally. It was real.
“DID YOU SEE ME?”
Uh, yeah, we couldn’t help noticing given it was an Olympic final.
“I WAS LIKE ‘GO FOR IT!’, AND I DID. AND I GOT IT. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?”
The hardest thing to believe was the interview itself. It was weird, yet it was wonderful in its rawness and wide-eyed honesty. Here was an athlete who was not pre-packaged and cliché-ridden. With a green pom-pom in one hand and a flag on her back, there was none of the designer patriotism of Jana Pittman’s painted fingernails. There was just sheer, unmanufactured exuberance.
Cut forward three and a half years and Pearson is just as natural. What’s changed is her status in the sport. The artist formerly known as Sally McLellan is now the undisputed princess of the track. She won the World Championships last year, as part of an unbeaten streak which lasted for a Black Caviar-esque 19 runs.
On Saturday night at the Sydney Track Classic, on a muggy evening 168 days out from the London Olympics, Sally Pearson showed her true class. A shame the crowd was barely a quarter of that at the footy across the road, because the Sally show was something to see.
First she ran her pet event, the 100 hurdles. She uncharacteristically clipped the last hurdle, yet still ran 12.66, the fastest time she’s ever run in Australia. Some athlete. Ninety minutes later, she lined up in the 200m and blitzed the field.
There was a fair array of talent on display on Saturday. John Steffensen looked strong winning the 400m, although quotes like “you can’t stop a great man” made him sound like the abbreviation of a Westpac banker. And watch out for a guy called Henry Frayne. He’s supposed to be a triple jumper, but he almost out-jumped the long jump pit with a massive leap of 8.27m.
But the night was all about Sally. Girls squealed her name and young men begged to her to marry them. After the 200m, she showed just why her appeal is universal.
“I’m just glad I put on a pretty good show for you all,” she said. “Thanks everyone for coming, it’s been great.”
See? It was all about us, not her.
Charisma, like talent, is one of those attributes you’ve either got or you don’t. Sally Pearson has both by the bucketload. And don’t we need it come London.
On paper, our Olympics hopes look shaky. Our champion swimmers appear past their best, and it’s doubtful if the rising crop will rise quickly enough. The same for our cyclists. Our medal tally could be skinny in London and don’t think the Poms will forget to taunt us about it.
Lucky we’ve got Sally. Unlike a certain other hurdler, you can bet there’ll be no drama. And unlike that other Sally back in 2004, you can bet she won’t lay down.
Indeed, to invoke a gambling phrase which means “an absolute certainty”, you’d have to say Sally Pearson is a lay down misere.
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