Sally Pearson – known pre-marriage as Sally McLellan – was hardly an unknown quantity entering the 2011 season, having earned a silver medal in the 2008 Olympics. Yet the extent of her domination of the 100-meter hurdles was still surprising. She won the Daegu World Championship with one of the fastest times in history, and had she not struck a hurdle in her final race of the year, Pearson would’ve been undefeated for the season. She capped the triumphant campaign with her selection as the 2011 IAAF female athlete of the year.
Pearson participated in swimming and gymnastics while growing up in Sydney. She began focusing on track and field at around age 11, after moving to Queensland. She was soon noticed by Sharon Hannan, who remains Pearson’s coach.
Pearson broke through on the international level by winning the 100-meter hurdles at the 2003 World Youth Championships in Sherbrooke, Canada, in 13.42 seconds. She was also fifth in the 200 (24.01) and competed in the medley relay. The same year, at age 16, she ran on Australia’s 4 x 100-meter relay team at the Paris World Championships.
In 2004 Pearson was third in the 100, fourth in the 100 hurdles and competed on Australia’s fifth-place 4 x 100-meter relay team at the World Junior championships in Grosseto, Italy.
Pearson has run a variety of sprints throughout her career. In Australia, for example, she’s won four national 100-meter hurdles championships, through 2011. But she’s also won five 100-meter senior titles, as well as two Australian under-20 championships. In 2011 she won national championships in the 100, 200 and the 100 hurdles, even though she’s mainly focused on the hurdles since 2008, in preparation for the Beijing Olympics.
Pearson made her individual World Championship debut in 2007, at age 20. She reached the semifinals of both the straight 100 and the 100-meter hurdles, and again ran in the 4 x 100-meter relay. She reached the World Championship 100 hurdles final in 2009, despite battling season-long back trouble, and placed fifth.
In 2008, Pearson – then still using the name McLellan – was part of a tight group that crossed the finish line a tenth of a second behind 100 hurdles gold medalist Dawn Harper. It took a photo finish to sort out the remaining medalists, after which Pearson was awarded the silver and Priscilla Lopes-Schliep the bronze, with both runners clocked in 12.64 seconds.
Pearson has also competed in two Commonwealth Games. She earned a bronze medal in the 4 x 100 relay in 2006, then struck gold by winning the 100-meter hurdles in 2010. She also, surprisingly, ran on Australia’s fourth-place 4 x 400-meter relay team.
Pearson would’ve won the 2011 Diamond League 100 hurdles championship with a victory in the final race, in Brussels, but she struck and hurdle and Danielle Carruthers gained the title.
2011 World Championships:
Pearson blew away the Daegu field
with a record-breaking run – and that was just in the semifinal. After taking the opening heat in 12.53 seconds, Pearson won her semi in 12.36, setting Australian and Oceania area records. She then topped herself in the final later that day. Pearson won the gold in 12.28 seconds, tied for the seventh-fastest result of all time, and a new World Championship record.
"I knew that I had this time in me, definitely, after the semifinal," Pearson said. "I knew I could get out there and do something special. I knew my body was in good shape. I tend to let my body do the talking and it told me I could run fast. During the race, I knew that I was going very fast, but I couldn't even image what I just achieved."
Pearson also ran the anchor leg on Australia’s the 4 x 100-meter relay team, which didn’t reach the final.
- Height: 5-5
- Weight: 130 pounds
- Birth date: Sept. 19, 1986
- Hometown: Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
- Personal best: 12.28 seconds (100-meter hurdles); 11.14 (100 meters); 23.02 (200 meters)