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Pearson, Gold Coast’s face of the games, out with injury

April 5, 2018

Australian athlete Sally Pearson carries the Queen's Baton during the opening ceremony for the 2018 Commonwealth Games at Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast, Wednesday, April 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) — Sally Pearson was the natural choice as the face of the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

The world and former Olympic champion hurdler took the chance to play a key role in the opening ceremony while knowing she wouldn’t be able to compete next week in her hometown games.

Those formalities complete, she waited until she’d had a night to sleep on it before calling a news conference on the first day of competition to announce that a long-term Achilles tendon injury had flared up during training this week.

The 31-year-old Pearson said she had no choice but to withdraw from the 100-meter hurdles and the 4-x100 relay, take some rest and start thinking about the 2019 world championships and 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“Gutted, tears flowing, a lot of emotions, you could call it grief,” Pearson said of her reaction after failing to finish a training session and coming to the realization that she’d be watching her home games from the sidelines. “Going through the numb phase first then the crying phase and then speaking to (coaches and medical experts) and double- and triple-checking it was the right decision.”

It was a setback for Australia’s track team — although she plans to be hands-on despite her non-competitive role — and for the games.

Pearson has had plenty of highs and lows after bursting onto the international stage with a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. She won Olympic gold in London four years later, defended her Commonwealth Games title at Glasgow in 2014 — seven weeks, she said, after tearing a hamstring — and made the biggest comeback in an injury-riddled career to win her second world championship title last year in London.

She couldn’t defend her Olympic title at Rio de Janeiro because of a breaking her wrist after a nasty fall in 2015 and has been hampered by hamstring and Achilles problems.

“It’s just unfortunate the timing is now,” Pearson told a news conference Thursday, explaining why she delayed her announcement. “I wanted to go into the opening ceremony. I had a big role to play. That’s why I waited until today.

“I did everything I possibly could to get out here and race for Australia.”

Pearson competed at a warm-up meet last week and said then that she was “90 percent” sure she’d be fit enough to compete at the Commonwealth Games. She is her own coach, so decided she needed to check in with the Australian track and field team’s head coach Craig Hilliard and doctor Paul Blackman to work out how to handle this injury.

They both agreed the risk was too great to compete next week.

“She didn’t want it to detract from the games, the opening ceremony, and everyone’s journey,” Hilliard said. ”... even yesterday (she was) saying ‘Is this the right decision?’ That’s why the decision was made for today.”

Pearson said she had to reset her goals and her training priorities to return to the highest level.

“This is not over for me. I know what sort of athlete I am. I know what sort of person I am,” she said. “I hate the fact that I feel I may have let some fans down, but I know the Australian public believes in who I am as an athlete — I know they believe I can be at my top again. That’s the dream I hold on to.”

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