MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian hurdler Sally Pearson will return to the scene of her greatest triumph when the World Athletics Championships get underway at the London Stadium, hopeful of capping an emotionally draining comeback with a spot on the podium.
Five years ago, Pearson stormed to 100 meter hurdles gold at the London Olympics, a crowning moment after dominating the event in a two-year period that included the 2011 world championship at Daegu and winning the IAAF women’s athlete of the year.
Pearson returned to claim silver at the 2013 worlds in Moscow but has since been absent from the biggest stages due to a horrifying run of injuries.
At 30 years of age, with creaky hamstrings and a wrist that refuses to bend properly after a “bone explosion” during a sickening fall on the track in 2015, Pearson is nonetheless back and running fast again.
The London Stadium, which hosts the championships from Aug. 4-13, seems to bring out the best in Pearson, who posted a 12.48 second run at the Diamond League meeting there last month as runnerup behind American world record holder Kendra Harrison.
It was Pearson’s quickest time since her 12.35 run to win the Olympic gold at the same venue and put her third on the year-best lists behind Harrison (12.28) and second-ranked American Jasmin Stowers (12.47).
The encouraging buildup has Pearson eyeing a medal next week, even as she tries to keep her hopes in check, having become accustomed to crushing disappointment in recent years.
“I have to be fair on myself and remember where I have come from, remember what I have been through with wrists, Achilles, hamstrings, all of that in a short space of time,” Pearson told Australian media at the national team’s training camp at Tonbridge.
“But at the same time I am a competitor, so what do I choose? Do I choose to be fair on myself and just say, ‘just go out there and enjoy it and have fun’, yet my other side is going, ‘You are going out there to win’.
“I would love, deep down, I would love a medal. I really would love a medal.
“I know you really want me to say gold but that’s what I want, I would love a medal and I think that would be a huge success.
“Any color, that would be a huge success.”
Since missing out on her Olympic title defense at Rio due to a hamstring strain, Pearson wrestled with thoughts of retirement before resolving to take another crack at the big-time.
She has plotted her comeback alone and there will be no calming words from a coach before she races on the world stage.
The process has been both liberating and racked with doubts, as shown when she broke down in tears upon qualifying for the worlds at national trials in Sydney in April.
Facing a powerful American team boasting Harrison, Olympic silver medalist Nia Ali and 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson, Pearson is mindful of the challenge.
“Knowing what I have achieved in this stadium before and knowing I’m coming back again, probably not as the favorite to win but certainly a contender to at least medal or make a final or whatever, that sits well with me,” said Pearson.
“But it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be one of the hardest races that I have ever done in my whole career, even harder than going for (Olympic) gold in London.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury