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Nineteen sets of medals were awarded on the opening day of the XXI Commonwealth Games, but the biggest story was on the athlete who won’t win a medal at all at Gold Coast 2018.
Australian track star Sally Pearson announced her withdrawal from the competition at a press conference Thursday afternoon, less than 24 hours after she shined in the spotlight as the final batonbearer of the Queen’s Baton relay at the Opening Ceremony. The Olympic and two-time defending Commonwealth Games champion in the 100m hurdles cited an Achilles’ injury as the reason she had to pull out.
“There were a lot of tears flowing there were a lot of emotions. I guess you could call it grief, sort of going through the numb phase first and then going through the crying phase.”
Pearson added: “It’s gut-wrenching, it’s heartbreaking. It’s very unfortunate that I can’t get out there.”
This wasn’t the chapter the 31-year-old intended to write at the biggest sports event Australia has staged since the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games.
“I left no stone unturned to get out here and race for Australia.”
— 7Sport (@7Sport) April 5, 2018
Pearson was supposed to delight her home crowd at Carrara Stadium on Friday, April 13th, when she was due to take the blocks in the women’s 100m hurdles competition, seeking her third straight Commonwealth title.
The bad luck that normally accompanies a day like Friday the 13th came eight days early.
But in reality, Pearson knew she wouldn’t be able to compete two days prior to telling the world.
But a training session on Tuesday convinced her, AA head coach Craig Hilliard, and team doctor Paul Blackman she had no choice but to scratch herself from the Games.
“I came out here at the village and did another training session and had full confidence warming up,” Pearson said.
“Then I went into some hurdles drills and then went into some run throughs and just couldn’t do it.”
Instead of pulling focus from the start of the Games, she kept the news private until after the Opening Ceremony. She told reporters that she wanted to enjoy herself that night, knowing that she had a big role to play as the final torchbearer. Perhaps it was a way of clinging to a moment of glory, knowing it would be the only one at these Gold Coast games.
Her story is similar to another hurdler who bore the heavy weight of expectations. In 2008, China’s Liu Xiang carried the title of ‘Face of the Games’ heading into the Beijing Olympics, following his gold medal performance in the 110m hurdles in Athens four years prior.
But an Achilles’ injury prevented him from defending his Olympic title, not that he didn’t try. Liu took to the track in front of 91,000 spectators at the Bird’s Nest for his preliminary heat. He knew that in warm-ups that leaping over a metal barrier was not going to happen. The superstar ended up leaving the track in tears.
Pearson perhaps wanted to avoid that same scenario of disappointment. After all, she’s had plenty of experience dealing with injury. A torn hamstring prevented her from defending her Olympic title in Rio. A year prior, Pearson shattered her wrist at a Diamond League event in Rome.
And there’s still so much left ahead for the two-time World Champion. The Tokyo Olympics are two years away and a third World title is up for grabs next year in Doha. While winning a major title on home soil is no longer a possibility, it’s by no means the final chapter in her career.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s an opportunity for another Australian to become ‘the Face of the Games’ in Gold Coast.
Around The Games
The first gold of the Games went to a woman from Bermuda.
After an afternoon of disappointment, England finds the top of the podium three times within minutes of each other.
She checks train tickets for a living. On Thursday, she broke a Games record en route to Commonwealth glory.
A Canadian swimmer spoiled an otherwise golden Aussie start in the pool.