Sally Pearson WR plan
Analysis of the record run in 1988 and of Pearson's best races has revealed ways in which she can become the greatest
• by: Mike Hurst
• From: The Daily Telegraph
• March 27, 2012 2:23PM
OVERCOMING HURDLES: Sally Pearson is among the three finalists for this year's World Athlete of the Year. Source: News Limited
SHE only needs to hit the top millimetre of a hurdle to come a cropper, yet shaving millimeters and milliseconds is a game of brinksmanship Australia's Sally Pearson must play on the road to London.
And Australia's 100m hurdles world champion plays this game of "chicken" over each of the 10 barriers she must clear every race and during every training session.
It is risky business for sure, but one which the Pearson team hope will put her in world record shape by the time she gets to London for the Olympics which start in July.
She dare not rest on her laurels, as her coach Sharon Hannan told The Daily Telegraph: "The focus isn't on the world record. It's obviously on the gold medal.
"But if we don't keep working on perfecting the model - getting Sally faster - someone is going to catch up to her."
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On the basis of her huge winning margins in last year's outdoor world championships over 100m hurdles in Daegu, Korea, and at the indoor world championships over 60m hurdles in Istanbul in mid-March this year, no serious threat can be identified.
But of course the hurdles race, along with the pole vault and steeplechase, are fraut with peril at every moment; We saw that when Pearson clipped a barrier at the diamond league track meet in Brussels last European summer and fell heavily to her solitary defeat of 2011. It was a $40,000 fall.
Despite that, the International Association of Athletics Federations, as well as other authoritative judges in the sport such as Britain's Athletics Weekly selected Pearson as their Female Athlete Of The Year: a singular honour which eluded even the great Cathy Freeman.
Freeman, who won the 400m world championship twice and Olympic gold in Sydney, retired ranked No.6 on the all-time performance list. Pearson, 25, is currently No.4 on the all-time 100m hurdles list.
The 100m hurdles world record of 12.21sec was set by Bulgaria's Yordanka Donkova in 1988. Pearson's best is 12.28 which she ran in the world championships final last year. Every other hurdler on the all-time top-12 is now retired.
But history beckons Pearson and she is about to start the hardest training block of her life as she seeks to whittle her time down toward the world record because, surely, she will need to be in that shape to claim gold in London, even if conditions conspire to prevent her running that fast.
"I tell her unless she's absolutely pushing the lactic (acid) boundaries she's not going hard enough. She'll vomit or go close probably half a dozen times in a training cycle," Hannan said.
While Pearson's great improvement from 2010 to 2011 is substantially down to enhancing her endurance over the last four hurdles - and work will continue in that area - Hannan says they are also looking at skimming time off her hurdle clearance.
"We have to work on her flight time which was 0.28sec for five of the 10 hurdles (Hurdles 2,3,4,5,6), four at 0.29sec (H1,7,8,9) and one of 0.30sec (H10) in Daegu. If we could get that down to 0.27 it would be awesome. That would be 0.08sec which would be the world record, all else being equal.
"I want her taking off closer to the hurdle. It has more to do with sighting the hurdle at the speed she's running. Sally sees the hurdle coming at her fast and so she automatically chops her step.
"But I don't want her to chop. In races she's taking off a little too far from the hurdle. She can do it perfectly in training.
"The solution is over-riding the survival instinct and attacking it more, yep. It's the chicken and the egg though. You can't work on that until you get your speed up in training."
If Pearson gets the world record she will follow a very different course to Donkova, who, at 179cm, would tower over the 166cm tall Gold Coast athlete. Donkova's accumulated flight time for the 10 hurdles is 2.72sec as against Sally's much slower 2.86sec (in her semi and final in Daegu, heat was 2.88). But Pearson is a couple of metres faster on the flat than Donkova was.
French sprints and hurdles coach Pierre-Jean Vazel, a biomechanics lecturer at a Paris university, told The Telegraph: "The trick is that at full speed Sally's stride length is 2.17m long (during the Daegu 4x100m relay) while the 8.50m interval, excluding the hurdle clearance, between the barriers leaves only 5.30m for the three strides between the hurdles. This works out at 1.77m per stride.
"So you can see how a hurdler has to adapt her running technique to fit the hurdles constraints.
"However Sally has an advantage over Donkova. In Daegu Sally ran the relay anchor in 10.07sec (flying start) while Donkova's best in Seoul at the Olympics in 1988 (the year she broke the 100m hurdles world record) was 10.20sec.
"Hence Sally has more speed than the Bulgarian and she does it with a shorter stride (Donkova's was 2.22m). All in all, Sally has the best sprinting speed with the shortest stride length which is a theoretical advantage."