When I was a kid, the high school track coach approached me about training for high jump, or possibly hurdling. My build, which is lanky with absurdly long legs, made me a natural for those sports, but my mind was too cowardly. All I could imagine was tripping and landing on my face, or trying and failing to lift my legs over the bar. I declined, and stuck to shot put and long jump, two events with limited potential for tripping and falling on my facing.
Secretly though I was fascinated by hurdlers, how a good hurdler has to develop focus like laser beams and have legs like whips to be good at their sport. Plus they have to have courage – lots and lots of courage. It takes an impressive amount of courage to sprint full speed ahead at an obstacle nearly three feet high, and to believe that you will not only clear it, but be ready to do it again just a few meters later.
Over the past couple of weekends, I got to see Australian Sally Pearson compete in the women’s 100m hurdles, first at the IAAF World Championship in Daegu, and then at the IAAF Diamond League finals in Zurich. (Oh, and can I just say that I’m super-excited to know that television programmers seem to be making track-and-field events a regular part of their sporting line-ups? Track-and-field events are so exciting, and they really ought to get more attention than they do.)
Both times, Pearson smoked the competition. She started out brilliantly, then leapt over hurdle after hurdle with nary a misstep. I wanted to cheer for the American hurdlers, like Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells and Danielle Carruthers, but Pearson was so impressive that she blew me away, and I had no choice but to root for her.
But maybe why I like her best is because of the interview she gave shortly after winning the silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, back when she was still Sally McLellan:
You’ve got to love a lady who admits on national television that, when she saw someone overtaking her in an Olympic race, her first thought is, “Shit!” My kind of girl.