Australia's Pearson sets Olympic standard in 100-meter hurdles
LONDON — Australian Sally Pearson crossed the finish line in the women’s 100-meter hurdles, pointed to her race bib and appeared to be asking, “Me?” American Dawn Harper had the same question.
So, as a light rain fell at the Olympic Stadium Tuesday night, both hurdlers looked up at the venue’s super-sized results board and waited to see who won. A few moments seemed like an hour to an anxious Harper.
“I thought I was going to get some coffee and tea, come back, see the results,” joked Harper. But it was only 30 seconds before Harper saw Pearson fall to her knees in relief and triumph.
Pearson, 25, won gold in an Olympic record 12.35 seconds. Outleaned at the line and two-100ths of a second behind, Harper, 28, captured the silver medal. American Kellie Wells, 30, followed in a personal-best 12.48 seconds for bronze. Lolo Jones, once again, missed out on the medals, finishing fourth in 12.58.
“I was like, ‘OK, we leaned together, but there’s a chance I could’ve nipped her.’ Then, I saw the results, I was like, ‘What? Silver’s good. Silver’s good.’ You have so many emotions going on. Silver now is added to my collection. To go away with a medal with that type of pressure I had on me. Did she deserve it in ’08? Can she do it now? All of those things.
“I feel like I kind of shut some people up. You’ve got to talk about Dawn a little bit. Sprinkle me in that conversation about the 100 hurdles.”
Leading up to the Olympics, Jones had been the most talked-about US hurdler, the most followed US track and field athlete on Twitter, and among the most recognizable among the names and faces in the US delegation. It was hard to forget how she rose from a difficult childhood with periods of homelessness to track star, how she entered Beijing as a strong gold-medal contender and cruised through the rounds, how she hit the second-to-last hurdle in the final and dropped from first to seventh. Her tears and track-pounding after that race provided one of the most indelible images of the Beijing Games.
“I’m just kind of in shock right now,” said Jones. “I didn’t keep it together. At least, this time it was a clean race.”
After spinal surgery one year ago, Jones was back for a second shot at a medal, a chance to realize the goal she nearly grasped in Beijing. But it was Pearson, Harper, and Wells who would not be denied their due.
“They can’t leave me out,” said Wells. “Because I’ll be in all the pictures on the podium.”
After Harper and Wells started strong, favorite Pearson settled into a rhythm and gained ground during the middle portion of the race and edged into the lead by the eighth hurdle. Harper didn’t sense where Pearson was, but the defending champion closed strong despite clipping a hurdle. Harper joked she had to “go back and talk to that hurdle” because it “cost me .02,” — the gap between first and second.
Still, Harper’s silver medal time was a tenth of a second faster than her personal best.
“I am pretty darn fast today,” said Harper. “That’s hard to do. People go years not dropping that and I did it in a year.”
Also, her time was the fastest mark by any second-place finisher in the 100 hurdles and ties her with Joanna Hayes as the second-fastest American in history, trailing Gail Devers (12.33). Pearson broke the Olympic record of 12.37 Hayes set at the 2004 Athens Games.
“I knew I needed to run the race of my life,” said Pearson, the silver medalist in Beijing. “To see my name No. 1, it was a huge relief. It was more relief than anything because the whole of Australia wanted this for so long.”
Added Harper: “It’s a totally different feeling from Beijing because this time, in many eyes, I was expected to do something. I’m so much more mature. I was going into the race very aware of where I was and what I wanted to do. In ’08, I felt I was just a baby. Here it was like, ‘I’m a vet of the race.’ ”
Two years ago, however, Harper wasn’t sure she would defend her Olympic title. She underwent knee surgery in July 2010 and her doctor told her she may never hurdle again. She went in for a procedure to clean out the area underneath her kneecap and her doctor discovered a mess of scar tissue and debris. Her doctor smoothed the surface, then told her “most people don’t recover from that.” She recalled thinking, “Oh, thanks. I’m like 27 years old and you told me I may be sitting on the couch.” There were many times she broke down crying, including the time she returned to hurdling in April 2011.
“I know what I’m capable of no matter what others may say,” said Harper. “I’m a fierce competitor and when I step on that line you have to respect it.”
As she talked about her silver medal, Harper gave a shout out to men’s 1,500 meter silver medalist Leo Manzano. In a sprint to the line, the 28-year-old showcased his closing speed and moved from sixth to second over the final 150 meters of the race. He finished with the fastest time ever run by an American at the Games and a season-best 3:34.79. Manzano was less than a second behind gold medalist Taoufik Makloufi of Algeria (3:34.08).
Taoufik made headlines Monday when he quit his 800 meter heat and walked off the track. He was initially disqualified from the Olympic competition for not trying hard enough, but later reinstated after officials from the international track governing body, IAAF, reviewed evidence and determined Makloufi had a genuine knee injury.
“It was the will of God,” said Makloufi. “Yesterday I was out, today I was in . . . I always wanted this medal and I hope it will be the start of a new area of 1,500 running in Algeria.”
But none of that affected Manzano or diminished his excitement about winning silver.
“I’m really excited, so thrilled and so pumped,” said Manzano. “It was an insane race. It was probably the toughest race physically and mentally that I’ve ever been in.”
Shira Springer can be reached at email@example.com.