Australia's Sally Pearson celebrates winning silver in the women's 100m hurdles final at the London Diamond League.
Australia's Sally Pearson celebrates winning silver in the women's 100m hurdles final at the London Diamond League. Paul Harding

The crossroads moment that has Pearson in reach of glory

ON August 8 last year Sally Pearson took a punt.

The Rio Olympics had just started and the 2012 Olympic hurdles champion was at rock bottom.

She was without a coach and in recent months had for the first time had a peek at life on the other side.

And she didn't mind it with Pearson and her husband, Kieran, enjoying a skiing holiday to New Zealand with friends, something she'd never been able to do previously.

A broken wrist had forced her out of the 2015 world championships and then a combination of hamstring and Achilles problems had meant she wasn't defending her Olympic crown in Rio.

It was the classic crossroads moment.

Pearson decided to push reverse and go back into the world she'd known for the previous 13 years, but there was one significant difference ... she was going to do it by herself.

The history of self-coached athletes at the elite level isn't great but the queen of Australian athletics figured there was no one more capable of lighting the fire again than herself.

Fast forward 12 months and Pearson is back in the stadium where she had her greatest triumph.

And she's not just making up the numbers with the 2011 world champion coming in as the third-fastest hurdler in the world this year.

Pearson, 30, served notice that she was back as a force at last month's London Diamond League meet where she ran 12.48sec.

"Most definitely (I had doubts)," she said.

"The only reason I came back was because I knew I had more to give, obviously deep down I knew I was capable of doing it.

"It was more the disappointment that got me down and made me think maybe I shouldn't be doing this any more, maybe my body can't handle it.

"But even deeper down I knew I could still do it if I just looked after myself properly and listened to my body and stayed injury-free."

Pearson admits she didn't know what to expect with the self-coaching but had been pleasantly surprised with how easily she'd adjusted.

"I know what works for me and it's just a matter of getting your body to do that, listening to it," she said.

"It is five years older than London now but it's just a matter of knowing your body and understanding what you do and what you don't do and also what you do have to do and not have to do any more.

"That was the big learning curve and it was very slow to start off with.

"The hardest part has been the competitions, trying to keep yourself up ... keeping the athlete's hat on and being positive that if you keep doing what you're doing then it will be all right.

"Figuring out when to be an athlete and when to be a coach has been the toughest thing."

Australian team head coach Craig Hilliard had no doubt his best performer would be able to make the transition to self-coaching.

"I am a true believer that if you have been with an effective coach and in the sport a long time to achieve what she achieved then the athlete, if they have any nous about them, should be able to coach themselves," Hilliard said.

"There are technical components in there and they need to consult and get other pairs of eyes.

"But she is a great feel athlete. It didn't worry me and I think Sally would love to coach, she's done some of her coaching accreditation courses already and I think she would be a good coach."

Coaching a world champion at her first attempt would be a great start to a career.

And Pearson knows she's back in the mix and given her ability to deliver on the big stage compared to others - world record holder Kendra Harrison is yet to win a medal at a major championships - puts her in the medal conversation.

Plus the excitement of returning to the track where she produced her greatest moment shouldn't be downplayed.

"Running in the London Diamond League was amazing," Pearson said. "That stadium is incredible and as you know after all these years, I thrive off that excitement.

"Strangely it is my comfort zone.

"Knowing that I have achieved in this stadium before and knowing I'm coming back again, probably not as the favourite to win but certainly a contender to at least medal or make a final or whatever - that sits well with me."

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