A day short of her seventh anniversary as an Olympic champion, Sally Pearson revealed she finally got the message her body has been delivering with increasing regularity.
The 32-year-old Australian, who won the 100-meter hurdles gold medal at London in 2012 in an Olympic record time despite the rain, has retired from competitive track and field after a series of injuries too numerous to mention — at least to the public, anyway.
She won’t be going to world championships next month in Doha to defend her title. She won’t be going to the Olympics next year in Tokyo, either.
A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Pearson said she reached the decision after realizing she couldn’t deliver on her own high expectations.
“I’m leaving my sport happy, still loving my sport, still loving the training, still loving competing,” she said in a video posted on social media. “But my body has decided that it’s time to let it go.”
She ended the 2½-minute video with a simple sign off: “See you round.”
Pearson later told Australia’s Seven Network: “I’m going to hang up my spikes. It’s been 16 years on the Australian team and my body is just not up to it. When you count six injuries this year that no one knows about, and another whole year to go of training for the Olympics to try and win gold, I have major doubts that my body will make it.”
With the exception of her world title in 2017, that coming after a courageous comeback from serious hand and arm injuries sustained in a racing fall in Rome in 2015, the last few years have been competitive letdowns for Pearson. That crash in Rome ended her chances of competing at the world championships and a hamstring problem prevented her from trying to defend her Olympic title in Rio in 2016.
An Achilles injury forced her to withdraw from the Commonwealth Games in her hometown last year , the morning after carrying Australia’s flag into the opening ceremonies on the Gold Coast.
The Olympic win on Aug. 7, 2012, completed a set after she’d won her first world title in 2011 and was also the world indoor champion. It came four years after her surprising silver at the Beijing Olympics launched her into the average Australian sports fan’s consciousness because of her exuberant celebration when the photo finish results were confirmed and her funny, emotionally raw live broadcast interview.
Pearson, then known as Sally McLellan, was fastest out of the blocks in Lane 3 in that race. She was in third spot when leading Lolo Jones clipped the penultimate hurdle, stumbled and faded to finish seventh. Pearson crossed just behind Dawn Harper, her mouth was agape in shock as she looked across to her right at the line.
When the review of the photo gave her the silver after a blanket finish, she jumped up and down on the spot, before bounding off the track with almost kangaroo-like hops en route to her “Is this real?” live TV interview.
Four years later in London, Pearson was expected to win. She was the fastest qualifier for the final, and fastest again off the blocks.
This time she narrowly held off Harper, and dropped to the track to celebrate after confirming her victory.
It made her Australia’s first Olympic gold medalist on the track since Cathy Freeman’s iconic victory in the 400 meters at the Sydney 2000 Games. After Pearson’s victory in London, she said Freeman had been her inspiration, and Freeman returned the favor on Tuesday with a tweet: “Congratulations on a stellar career, Sally! You always performed when it counted!”
On Tuesday, Pearson said the main disappointment about retirement “is that I won’t become a three-time Olympian.”
“I’ve known for about a week that I would retire,” she said. “The decision was made with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, but I know it’s the right time.”
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