When Sharon met Sally a star was spawned
* by: Glenda Korporaal
* From: The Australian
* March 03, 2012
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Sally Pearson hugs coach Sharon Hannan
The relationship between coach Sharon Hannan and hurdles star Sally Pearson is one of the most perfect partnerships in athletics Source: AP
WORLD champion 100m hurdler Sally Pearson has only ever had one coach: Gold Coast-based Sharon Hannan.
Never an athlete herself, Hannan became interested in athletics when she took her daughter, Rishelle, to Little Athletics when she was living in Cairns in 1982.
A single mother, Hannan started the Cairns Little Athletics centre in 1983 with other local families and took her first coaching course that year.
She met Gold Coast-based Peter Hannan, a teacher and long jump coach, several years later and moved to the Glitter Strip when her daughter finished school in 1991.
She married Hannan and began managing the Gold Coast athletics track when it was built in August 1998 as part of a bid to host the British team for the 2000 Olympics. Hannan met the 12-year-old Pearson -- then Sally McLellan -- when she was competing in the Queensland Little Athletics Championships in Townsville in 1999.
Pearson had moved to the Gold Coast from Sydney with her mother a few years before, and was keen to join the squad of athletes Hannan was training nearby.
Hannan could see Pearson's talent in the hurdles and invited her to join her squad.
Pearson was the youngest in the squad and wanted to cover up the fact that she was still in primary school. But she showed her determination to train and compete with older athletes.
In the dozen years since, Hannan's coaching has taken Pearson to the summit.
It has been a rapid rise as a result of Pearson's own dedication to training and competing, and Hannan's watchful eye and guidance.
When she first began coaching Pearson, Hannan had coached many different athletic events but was, in her own words, "an expert at none".
With a talented young hurdler now in her squad, she soon began learning everything she could about the event. Along the way she sought advice from renowned hurdles coach Roy Boyd, who was guiding Australian men's 110m hurdles record-holder Kyle Vander Kuyp.
Pearson has gone from World Youth Games gold medallist in 2003, and 2006 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, to her unexpected silver medal in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and last year's world hurdles championship win in Daegu, South Korea.
There have been some ups and downs in the relationship. One of the most difficult times was in 2002 when Pearson had an undiagnosed stress fracture in her foot.
Pearson had easily broken the Australian record in the 200m hurdles in the Queensland state school championship in October 2002 and went to Melbourne in December for the National All Schools Championships.
There, Athletics Australia medical staff diagnosed her fracture and she was not allowed to compete in the event, although she did run in the 90m hurdles and the 4x100m relay -- because they didn't involve a turn.
A furious Pearson sat in the stands watching another girl win the 200m hurdles in a much slower time than she could have mustered, angry that Hannan had not been able to have it diagnosed earlier.
"It was tough," recalls Hannan, who now manages the Gold Coast track with her husband Peter. "She was a kid.
"She didn't comprehend it and didn't talk to me for months."
Pearson has begun 2012 in her best ever condition, running the hurdles two weeks ago in 12.66sec, her best time on Australian soil.
Now Pearson and Hannan have their sights set on gold at the London Olympics.
While many have predicted that Pearson would have to leave the Gold Coast for her coaching once she climbed to world class success, the relationship between coach and athlete has grown even stronger.
Hannan is now the national coach of the women's 4x100m relay team which is still bidding to qualify for London. Her squad also includes athletes from Papua New Guinea, New Zealand (bronze medallist at the 2010 Commonwealth Games Andrea Miller), India, Tahiti and Tuvalu.
One of her fundamental approaches to coaching is that the athlete has to be their own motivator. She quotes the former Australian cycling coach Martin Barras, who said: "You cannot want it for them."
Hannan has been criticised for overworking Pearson, encouraging her to do the hurdles as well as the 100m and 200m sprints, but she argues that Pearson can more than cope with the pressure, and that she is a far better competitor at the major events because she has what Hannan calls "repeatability".
"If anything Sally has thrived on it," Hannan says. Pearson ran the 100m last night at the Melbourne track classic and backs up tonight racing in the 100m hurdles and then the 200m before heading off to the world indoor championships in Istanbul next week.