LONDON (Reuters) - Sally Pearson fulfilled a dream on Tuesday that was inspired 12 years ago when Cathy Freeman won 400 meters gold in front of more than 100,000 screaming Australians at the Sydney Olympics.
A dozen years and a lot of hard work later Pearson won the 100 meters hurdles title at the London Games, appropriately handing Australia their first track gold medal since Freeman’s emotional win.
Runner-up at the Beijing Games four years ago and world champion in Daegu last year, this was the crowning achievement for the 25-year-old Queenslander.
“I’ve wanted this ever since I saw Cathy Freeman win gold at the Sydney Olympics,” Pearson told reporters. “I thought ‘how do I do that? how do I become the best athlete in the world?'”
”Winning a gold medal is not easy but I believed in myself, especially over the last four years.
”After I won the silver in Beijing, I knew I had the talent and self-belief to be the best in the world.
“This is everything I have ever wanted and more.”
Pearson has enjoyed a dominant two years in which she lost just once in each season, beaten in Brussels at the end of 2011 and losing to Kellie Wells in her last race before the London Games.
The Australian’s self-belief never wavered.
“I wasn’t having a good day in the office in London and it was very hard knowing I had won so many races and Kellie got me on the line,” she said.
“At the same time I knew that my preparation was fantastic and I knew that one race couldn’t stop me from winning an Olympic gold medal.”
When Beijing Olympic champion Dawn Harper ran a personal best of 12.46 seconds in the semi-finals on Tuesday, it only strengthened Pearson’s resolve and she ran her own season’s best time (12.39) in her heat.
“I was really ready for that race,” she said. “When Dawn ran 12.46 in the semis, I thought I‘m going to stamp my name on this race, I‘m going to make them realize that I‘m here to win and I‘m here to run fast.”
Even when she was pushed all the way to the line by Wells and Harper in the final, she said never really thought she had lost.
“I had a little panic for a moment that I hadn’t won it but I knew in my heart I had and it was just a matter of confirming it on the screen,” she said.
Pearson, who finished in an Olympic record time of 12.35 to beat Harper by two hundredths of a second, said even the teeming London rain had not bothered her.
There had also been no thought at all about bettering Yordanka Donkova’s 24-year-old world record of 12.21.
Her familiar grim “race face” now replaced by a wide smile, Pearson once again summed up her philosophy.
“It’s just really belief for me, it’s just believing in yourself,” she concluded. “Giving it crack, knowing that you can do it.”
Editing by Ed Osmond