Forty years after Maureen Caird and Pam Ryan won gold and silver medals in the 80 metres hurdles at Mexico City 1968, the 21-year-old Sally Pearson (then McLellan) won Australia’s next medal in the event, now over 100 metres, at Beijing 2008. She went on to match Caird’s effort four years later at the London 2012 Games when she took home gold as she broke the Olympic record in the process.
In Pearson’s race at the 2008 Games, which was won by Dawn Harper of the United States in 12.54 seconds, the next five placegetters were separated by a total of 0.02 seconds. Pearson’s dip-finish garnered her second place with a time of 12.64 whilst Bridgette Foster-Hylton (Jamaica), who finished sixth, was given a time of 12.66 seconds.
Pam Ryan’s time of 12.93 seconds for the 100 metres hurdles in June 1972 stood for almost 35 years as the best by an Australian until Pearson ran 12.71 seconds in May 2007. In between Ryan’s fourth in the inaugural 100 metres hurdles at Munich 1972 and Pearson’s silver medal at Beijing only Glynis Nunn, fifth at Los Angeles 1984, had represented Australia in the Olympic final in the event.
Having won gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, Pearson began to really dominate her event as she became the first Australian to be named the IAAF Female World Athlete of the Year in 2011. Her near perfect results saw her claim 15 of the 16 100m hurdles races she competed in throughout the year, including the 2011 World Championship in a time of 12.28s.
Pearson’s focus and determination ensured that the pressure of being the Olympic gold medal favourite would not rattle her. She qualified fastest for the Olympic final in a season’s best time of 12.39 before lining up in the final with Australia and the world watching. Pearson went quicker again in the final as she broke the Olympic record to win the gold medal in a time of 12.35, 0.02 ahead of Beijing gold medallist Harper. Pearson’s reaction to winning a surprise silver in Beijing was matched by the tense wait and then pure excitement at relief at being confirmed as the 2012 Olympic Champion.