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Sharon & Sally - insight to the best coach/athlete relationship in aths

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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.



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Sally Pearson timing run to perfection

* by: Sharon Hannan
* From: The Australian
* March 03, 2012

SALLY Pearson and I teamed up in May 1999, when she was a bouncy, little 12-year-old. Fast forward 12 years and nine months and we are preparing to win gold in the 100m hurdles at the London Olympics.

Will the winning time matter? No.

The fastest winning time in an Olympic 100m hurdles was 12.37 seconds in 2004 by Joanna Hayes of the US. And the fastest winning time in a world championships before Sally's personal best of 12.28s in 2011 was also a 12.37s by Gail Devers of the US in 1999 at Seville.

But what really matters is crossing the finish line first. It is our intention for Sally to cross the line first in the heats on August 6, and again in the semi-finals and finals on August 7. "Project Gold" is about all three races.

With so many training years behind us, the focus for this year is precision. With just 8.5m from hurdle gate to hurdle gate, and a clearance stride that takes up a considerable chunk of that distance, we wanted to get as much sprinting space as possible to utilise Sally's main strength speed.

To do this we need to have her take-off as close to the hurdle as possible without hitting it, and her landing as close as possible on the down side.

When acceleration, top speed and deceleration are taken into consideration, it's hard to imagine how an athlete can be so precise as to take-off at exactly the same mark at every hurdle. We're working on sub-two metres for the take-off and sub-one metre for the touchdown.

The main challenges are getting closer to the hurdles for take-off, getting faster over the hurdles, finishing faster and knowing when to back off.

Sally's development over the years means her flat speed has improved every year. So we need to at least maintain her raw speed and control this into and over the hurdles.

Acceleration and deceleration dictate that the speed of approach is different at almost every hurdle. Programming is such that the athlete gets faster and faster through the season, so the speed of approach in the early sessions is completely different to that just before the major event. The athlete has to continually tune their "speed eye" because the hurdle is coming at them faster and faster.

Our attention is also drawn to repeated precision - the ability to take off the same distance from each hurdle, regardless of speed.

There are some quite famous hurdles coaches - such as Brent McFarlane of Canada - who maintain that once an athlete becomes a hurdler, they should never compete in sprint events. But I believe that Sally's ability to compete at a high level in sprints enhances her speed for the hurdles and she just has to focus completely on every hurdle so that her take-off is spot-on.

There have been a couple of races (Brussels in 2010) where Sally had a bad start and had to play catch-up throughout the race. On those occasions, her time from the final hurdle to the finish line was the fastest ever, so we know she can do it. We just have to work out whether she needs to have someone breathing down her neck in a race to really push her, or whether we need to change something in her program or her technique off the last hurdle.

She has made a late decision to compete in the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul next weekend. The run-out from the last hurdle to the finish in the 60m indoor hurdles event is an extra 2.5m, so this will be a great opportunity to see how strongly she can finish.

One other important challenge for me as a coach is knowing when to back off the speed. After Sally ran a 12.66s for the 100m hurdles in Sydney two weeks ago, we had to scrap the Monday session and also modify the Tuesday session. A very fast run creates significant neural fatigue. This can challenge spatial awareness and can lead to muscle tightness.

Precision is important in most sports. I was listening to the final hour or so of the Australian Women's LPGA Championship and there were six women in a play-off for the title in Melbourne. Imagine that, 72 holes and the score was a six-way tie on 289.

There was a real need for precision under pressure, and Jessica Korda, who had led for most of the tournament, was the most precise on that final hole.

You can bet your bottom dollar that coaches in cricket (no-balls), AFL (behinds), hockey, netball, basketball and many other sports pay a great deal of attention to maintaining precision. There is an element of precision under pressure in all those sports.

I realise that precision is not exclusive to our event or to our sport and there is much to be learned from other coaches and athletes.



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Pressure no hurdle for Pearson's Olympic dream
06 March 2012
Source: Reuters

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A determined mother and coach fuelled Australian Sally Pearson's rise to the pinnacle of world athletics. Now the hard-nosed hurdler plans to emulate another iron-willed countrywoman in Cathy Freeman to clinch gold at the London Olympics.

Freeman's emotional gold medal run in the 400 metres at the 2000 Sydney Games remains a misty-eyed memory for many Australians, including Pearson who watched it on television as a 14-year-old cherishing a similar dream.

She also watched the indigenous Australian's run at Atlanta four years earlier, feeling more crushed than happy about the silver medal for the then-23-year-old.

Having won silver in the 100 metres hurdles in Beijing, and clinched a long-awaited world championship at Daegu last year, Pearson knows something of the weight of expectation Freeman carried into Sydney.

The blonde 25-year-old now carries the burden as the "golden girl" of Australian athletics, a raging favourite for the Olympic title in London for a country who's hunger for track and field success is rarely sated.

"Cathy's probably an inspiration to everyone but she hasn't inspired me to run faster, she's just someone to look up to and mimic everything she does because of what she did in Sydney," Pearson told Reuters in an interview.

"Everyone would love to be able to have that sort of pressure and to still come out in the end on top.

"I guess you try to copy what she does because she's the best Olympian Australia's had in my opinion."

Absorbing the wisdom of Freeman, who lit the Olympic cauldron in Sydney in a dramatic climax to the opening ceremony, has been orchestrated by Australia's athletics chiefs, who have urged Pearson to confront the pressure head on and embrace it.

"It's not going to go away," Athletics Australia's high performance manager Eric Hollingsworth said at the Melbourne Track Classic at the weekend.


"We've put in strategies to cope with the pressure, to make sure we're ready, make sure we understand it, understand where to draw the line, when enough's enough, what's our responsibility to the sport.

"Cathy and Sal get together, they go and have a coffee and they talk about it. Cathy was under the most pressure at an Olympic Games and she came through it."

While Pearson has credited Freeman for making her task clearer, the Sydney-born hurdler hardly wants for confidence as she contemplates the ultimate prize.

Pearson won 15 out of 16 races last year to win the IAAF's Athlete of the Year, including the world title at Daegu where she thrashed the competition in the final with a time of 12.28 seconds, the fourth fastest on record for a woman.

American Dawn Harper, the reigning Olympic champion, managed only 12.54 seconds at Beijing, a time Pearson has already eclipsed this year with her 12.49 to win her pet event at the Melbourne Track Classic.

Ominously for her main challengers at London, which include Harper and fellow American Lolo Jones, Pearson stormed to the win in a shower of drizzle and on a spongy track that had absorbed a day's rain.

Pearson's form has fuelled talk of a genuine crack at the world record of 12.21 held by Bulgaria's Yordanka Donkova at London or in the leadup.

"She's a miracle girl at the moment, the 12.50 like that," gushed Hollingsworth. "She must be (close). She's got to be somewhere there when we get her into her full peak and she'd done another bit of base work and the momentum comes."

Pearson has not always been so punctual. As a young girl competing at a junior athletics championship for her home state of Queensland, she nearly missed the start of her hurdles event while walking around the field in a daydream.


She jammed herself onto the line at the last moment and won the under-13 event in the steamy northern city of Townsville in a meeting record, hitting a bunch of hurdles on the way.

Had she missed it, she may have never have been spotted by her coach Sharon Hannan, who knew she had seen a rare talent and invited her to join her team.

Hannan, a former single mother who taught herself coaching through text books and never competed as an athlete, remains Pearson's coach to this day.

Along with Pearson's mother Anne who raised her daughter alone and worked two jobs to allow her to pursue her dream, Hannan has helped the athlete defy the doubters time and again.

"(My mother's) my number one fan and she's obviously put her life on hold for me to become the best athlete in the world," said Pearson.

"My coach obviously has always believed in me more than I've believed in myself, and she pulled me through even with all the doubters that didn't believe in us and didn't believe in her coaching strategies.

"We got here today and she's got me to be the fourth fastest athlete in history, so we kind of stomped on those doubters and came through."

Pearson famously scrambled to receive her IAAF award in Monaco last November, after mistaking a police function at her hotel for the ceremony. She is confident everything is right on schedule now, however, but is impatient that the Games are still five months away.

"I'm going to stay grounded and make sure that I look after my body and stay fit and uninjured. That's just the key, I think, to get me on top of that podium," she said.

"It feels like it's taking forever ... I've still got to get through the heats, the semis and got to make that final, then when that final comes I'm just not going to leave anything on the track."



I felt it was timely to bump this up and move it to the Coaching thread.

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