‘Destined for greatness:’ How Sally became a sports legend
Right from the start Sally Pearson was 'destined for greatness' and determined to be the best. This is how the Gold Coaster became a sporting legend.
BRETT Green can still remember Sally Pearson at her first Little Athletics meet in Helensvale more than 20 years ago.
Right from the start, he recalled yesterday, the tiny 10-year-old was determined to be the best.
But as the Olympic sprint hurdler announced her retirement yesterday, her former high school teacher and coach - whom Pearson calls Greenie - remembered her as quiet and passionate.
"No detentions, not that I can remember," he joked.
"She was very determined, really switched on with what she wanted to achieve, goal-orientated and even from a young age she was determined to beat people."
Though he still meets her on the track often, as of yesterday he had not had a chance to touch base with Pearson about her retirement.
"I would tell her to sit down and reflect on everything she's achieved, because while you're doing it you don't really sit and soak it all in," he said.
"Take some time to do that, take time to enjoy life to the fullest. She's been going at it for a long time now and she deserves a chance to sit back and relax, absorb it all."
And while many remember the medals and the injuries, Mr Green's memories are simpler - the day the two-time Olympian came around to help him renovate.
"(Kieran Pearson) came round to do the plumbing and she came round to have a good chat," he said. "That's when you've made it, when you have an Olympic silver medallist as the foreman for your kitchen."
In an interview a month before Pearson won gold at the London Olympics in 2012, former Bulletin reporter Dwayne Grant asked those who knew her best for an insight into the woman they adore. Here is what they said:
FINDING HER FEET
ANNE McLellan came to Australia from England as a tourist in 1981 and decided to stay. Five years later she gave birth to a baby girl.
"Sally walked very young,'' Anne recalled. "She was only 8½ months old. She could do upside-down cartwheels when she was one, things her friends couldn't do. She was good at that sort of stuff so when she was about four I signed her up for gymnastics. She started swimming at the same time and she was good at that too.
"This sounds awful but I think whatever sport she had chosen she would have succeeded at. Athletics has obviously been wonderful for her but if she had chosen tennis or golf it would've been the same. Actually not golf. That's too boring for Sally.''
THE BIG MOVE
WHEN Sally was nine, Anne decided to move from Sydney to Brisbane. Then fate intervened.
"Mum and her friend had both lost their jobs and wanted to do something different,'' said Sally, who has met her father but doesn't keep in touch. "Her friend also had a daughter and we were all going to move to Brisbane but the removalist suggested the Gold Coast.''
"That's exactly what happened,'' her mum laughed. "We had been to the Gold Coast on holidays and the removalist said: 'I'll only take you as far as the Gold Coast.' And we said: 'OK then.' ''
HAVING joined Little Athletics, Sally was at the state championships in Townsville in 1999 when she caught the eye of Sharon Hannan.
"We just both happened to be up there for a State Little Athletics meet and another mother suggested I should watch this girl who was 'special','' the self-taught coach said. "(Sally) was just 12 and I watched her run a 200m hurdles and I thought: 'Oh my God.' She certainly had some speed.
"She didn't know what she was doing but she had something. There was raw talent.''
Hannan spoke to Anne and soon after Sally had joined her squad on the Gold Coast.
"Mum just took me along to training one day and that's how it started,'' Sally said.
BY the time she was 16, Sally was breaking national junior records and attracting attention from various people, one of whom was Robert Joske.
"I remember the first time I ever saw her race,'' her long-time agent said. "I was specifically there to see Sally after a contact at the Australian Institute of Sport suggested I meet her.
"She had to march down the length of the 100m straight to the starting blocks. All the other kids in the race were waving to their friends in the crowd but Sally was steely-eyed, her jaw out. She just looked straight ahead and didn't focus for one instant on the crowd. You could tell this was a girl who had an amazing capacity to focus. That was a telltale sign that she was destined for greatness.
"All elite sportspeople have a dedication and commitment beyond what most normal people probably realise or understand. Sally is no exception. Her capacity to focus and be so professional, not only on the track but in her training lifestyle, is amazing.''
SALLY attended Helensvale State High School on a sporting scholarship and it was in Year 12 that she started dating her future husband, Kieran Pearson.
"I told him before we went out that athletics comes first and if he doesn't like it, too bad,'' she said. "I warned him and he said: 'Bring it on.' So it was all right.''
Kieran, a plumber, added: "I didn't really know how good she was until she went to the 2006 Commonwealth Games. I thought it was something she did on weekends. I soon found out different.''
Sally suffered a bad fall in the hurdles at the Melbourne Games but backed up the next day to win bronze in the 4x100m relay. As always, Kieran was there.
"If I've had a bad day at training or competitions, I can just talk to him,'' she said. "Sometimes you just want to let everything out without someone saying how to make it better.
"Because he doesn't really know how it feels to be a professional athlete, he just listens which is nice, instead of someone saying: 'You could do this or that.' "
"I think they have a wonderful companionship,'' mum Anne said.
AT the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Sally endeared herself to a nation, not just by winning silver in the 100m hurdles but also for letting her emotions run wild during an incredible post-race interview.
"Oh, my God,'' she exclaimed. "You've got to be kidding me right. Is this real … did you see how pumped I was? I was probably more pumped than I had ever been in my life … I got over the hurdles and I was like 'shit'.''
Pat Welsh was the man on the other end of the microphone.
"It rates among the highlights of my career,'' the veteran broadcaster said. "I've had the pleasure of interviewing a lot of Olympic champions, like Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson, but to be an Aussie and share with someone like that, especially a Queenslander, is something I'll cherish forever. We were chatting (months later) and I said: 'Have you seen the interview yet?' And she said: 'I don't know whether to be embarrassed, laugh or cry but it was just me.' ''
SINCE Beijing Sally has won Commonwealth Games and World Championships gold, as well as been named the 2011 international female athlete of the year. She is a bona fide superstar, but the kids at Gold Coast Victory Athletics Club already knew that.
"I've been training here for the last three years and when you see Sally here you can't help but think how good it is to be on the same track as her,'' rising 16-year-old sprinter Phoebe-Rose Turton said. "It was actually a little daunting at the start, you know, running into her in the bathrooms and things like that.
"The best bit is getting to see how much hard work she puts in. You see the dedication she has and when you remember she was just a 13-year-old at Little Athletics and now she's at the Olympics, you think that could be one of us one day.''
DESPITE all the success, Sally will forever remain the same woman to those who know her best.
"She's really loyal to her friends,'' mum Anne explained. "We've still got the same friends we've had since we lived in Sydney and Sally was a baby. The same friends she has known since primary school came to her engagement party.
"It's not like she thinks she's above anybody. She's just an ordinary person who has done something extraordinary at a young age.''
Coach Hannan's husband Peter, who doubles as Sally's strength and conditioning coach, said: "She is a private person. She says herself that she's not a great one to party or socialise. She'd rather be home playing with the dogs, spending time with her husband or visiting her mum.
"She's actually pretty shy."
As for the final word, what does her husband love about his golden girl?
"Everything,'' Kieran said. "She's an awesome girl.''