Proud Pearson turns injury torment into more London gold

Sally Pearson won Olympic gold in London in 2012 and now World Championship gold in the same stadium, but the intervening years were blighted by injury for the Australian. Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

LONDON -- "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," screamed a wide-eyed Sally Pearson as she crossed the line on Saturday to claim the 100-meter hurdles World Championships gold medal for the second time in her career.

The Australian was not even smiling and looked like an athlete lost in awe at her own amazing comeback from injury as she crouched down with the national flag draped around her shoulder, quivering with emotion.

A bewildered Pearson then searched the crowd for her mum, who she tries to see prior to every victory lap, before finally recovering her composure.

"It's just incredible," said Pearson, after taking gold in 12.59 seconds on the track she won the Olympic title on in 2012. "Every single emotion you can think of, that you hold in your body, just came out over that finish line. It wasn't surprise, it wasn't shock, it was just pure pride. I was so proud of what I had done to get here."

Rightly so. Pearson seemed to be getting to her peak when she won the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. She went on to take silver at Moscow 2013, but she didn't compete in a major global championships again until these London championships as wrist, hamstring and Achilles tendon injuries all derailed her career. With her 31st birthday coming next month, it seemed as though her career was past its peak.

"In 2015 and 2016, 12 months with four severe injuries; and then, in August, the first day of the Olympics last year, I decided to coach myself," said Pearson. "It took me hours to write the programme out, what was best for me and what I couldn't do, being an older athlete and having these injury troubles.

"I've got the most tight-knit little squad -- I call them Team Pearson -- of my friends, my mum and my husband. My training partners, I've only got two, have been fantastic. I don't think I would be here without their support. They had more belief than I did coming into tonight."

"[But] I did kind of do it by myself," Pearson continued. "I had a lot of support, but I was the one who did the programming and got myself out on the track and had, like, three hats on. Every medal is different, and this one sure is different to the rest of them."

Pearson said this triumph was sweeter than her 2011 gold, but she was not the only veteran to make an impact. American Dawn Harper Nelson -- the 2008 Olympic champion who took silver behind Pearson here in 2012 and bronze in that 2011 final -- made it a veteran double at the top of the podium by grabbing silver again on Saturday.

The 33-year-old U.S. athlete said "silver tastes like gold tonight," feeling just as proud as her rival after she proved she can still cut it at the highest level.

"To have the year I have and come out with a medal for the U.S., it's just such a blessing," said Harper Nelson, who served a three-month ban from December 2016 after testing positive for a banned diuretic.

"It was such a blur but towards the end. I could see Sally. Of course, it's me and her! But it was so sweet to be me and her coming across that line. We hugged each other after the race. It just shows we are strong competitors and you can never count us out. It's a sweet rivalry."

Harper Nelson, who ran a season's-best time of 12.63 seconds, admitted the race was tinged with a little disappointment.

The U.S. team had four strong-running women in the final and hoped to complete a clean sweep. But Germany's Pam Dutkiewicz took bronze ahead of American champion and world record holder Kendra Harrison in fourth; Christina Manning was fifth and Nia Ali eighth.

"I was hoping one of us would get third," said Harper Nelson. "When I saw third, I turned around, I didn't want to get sad. I definitely thought there was going to be at least two of us."

After such success, neither Harper Nelson nor Pearson was entertaining thoughts of retirement. The American was giving herself at least another year, while the Australian was looking forward to next year's home Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast and refusing to rule out the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Given the drama and quality of their performances, nobody should doubt them.