Pearson, Harper-Nelson lead way in 100 hurdles at worlds
Besieged by injuries, Sally Pearson missed nearly two years. Beleaguered by some bad results, Dawn Harper-Nelson hasn't been quite the same, either.
Yet there they were down the stretch, two Olympic 100-meter hurdles gold medalists vying for the title at the world championships on Saturday. Just like old times, they were reunited on the podium — Pearson taking first and Harper-Nelson winding up second.
A couple of 30-somethings holding off the next wave of hurdlers.
"Toward the end, I could see Sally out of the corner of my eye. I was like, 'Of course it's me and her'," the 33-year-old Harper-Nelson said. "But it was so sweet for it to be me and her, to come across the line. Silver tastes like gold and Dawn is not laying her head down sad tonight."
These two have seen plenty of each other over the years.
Harper-Nelson was the 2008 Beijing Games champion, with Pearson taking silver. Four years later at the London Olympics, the order was reversed.
They could've broken the tie at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, but neither earned a spot. Pearson was sidelined by a torn hamstring and Harper-Nelson simply didn't run fast enough at trials to make the squad.
Heading into this season, Pearson could tell she was in title-chasing condition. After all, she felt that "spark" while training.
"I knew I could get here," the Australian said.
So did Harper-Nelson, especially after making a talent-rich team at the US championships.
This is, after all, the team that swept the medals at the Olympics last year, and that placed four women in this year's final, three of whom weren't even on the team for Rio.
They were Harper-Nelson, Christina Manning and the world-record holder, Kendra Harrison.
But there would be no repeat.
Pearson spoiled those plans by finishing in 12.59 seconds, 0.04 ahead of Harper-Nelson. Pamela Dutkiewicz of Germany edged out Harrison for the bronze by .02 seconds.
"I've worked so hard. I don't know what has just happened out there," said Pearson, who broke her wrist during a fall at a Diamond League meet in 2015. "I'm so tired, but I'm sure it will sink in soon."
Pearson's attention in this race was on Harper-Nelson, two spots to her right, though it was hard to ignore the clanging sound to her left; it was Harrison, who was clipping hurdles again and again.
"I said, 'She's hitting hurdles. Don't you get into that rhythm, don't you fall into hitting hurdles. You're going well. You're the most consistent one out there. Just keep running and go fast'," said Pearson, who turns 31 next month. "That's when I put the pedal down and didn't want to look anymore."
Pearson crossed the finish line, looked to her right and saw Harper-Nelson was barely behind. The camera showed the Aussie mouthing, "Oh My God, Oh My God," and she just kept right on running toward the stands.
A moment later, Harper-Nelson gave her a heartfelt embrace.
"We were talking to each other and I said, 'Girl, it's me and you again,'" Harper-Nelson said. "We've been doing this since '08. It shows we're strong competitors. Once again, you can never count us out. When Sally is there, Dawn is there. It's a sweet rivalry."
Then, it was cartwheel time for Harper-Nelson and she did a series of them. She celebrated hard after being on the sideline for the last Olympics.
"You have to stay positive and understand one race doesn't define you," Harper-Nelson said. "When you look at the big picture, I show up time and time again."
Pearson does, too.
"It's been a hard run to get here," she said. "But I'm just so proud what I've been able to achieve."