Last year, Sally Pearson lost something in Japan without even knowing it, or even being in the country for that matter. At the Seiko Golden Grand Prix, an IAAF World Challenge meeting, in Kawasaki on Sunday (10), the Australian star will see if she’s able to regain the meeting record in the women’s 100m hurdles.
“Training has been going really well,” Pearson said upon arriving in Kawasaki, just southwest of Tokyo. “I’ve sorted a few things out with my technique out of the blocks. It’s going really well, I’m very excited.”
Pearson, the Olympic champion, headlines the meeting that also features world high jump champion Bogdan Bondarenko and Olympic 4x100m champion Tianna Bartoletta, who will meet some familiar foes in both the women’s 100m and long jump.
The meeting at the refurbished Todoroki Stadium is also the first stop for the women in the IAAF Hammer Challenge, with China’s current world leader Wang Zheng taking on European silver medallist Martina Hrasnova of Slovakia and Commonwealth champion Sultana Frizell of Canada in the eight-woman field.
While the meeting marks the beginning of their individual outdoor season for most of the athletes, Pearson is well along, having already competed on the Australian domestic circuit, which included a seventh title in the 100m hurdles at the national championships.
But all did not go smoothly. She had a bout of food poisoning in March that set back her training, then had a leg problem at the national championships that forced her to pull out of the final of the 100m. She says that’s all behind her.
“It’s all done, all over it now,” Pearson says. “I’ve been into some heavy training in the last few weeks, but lightening up coming into competition for this weekend and next week.”
Pearson returns to Japan for the first time since 2011, when she competed in a relay to help Australia qualify for the IAAF World Championships. Individually, she has good memories of the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, where she was more than satisfied by making the semifinals of both the 100m and 100m hurdles. Her time of 11.14 in the 100m remains her personal best.
In the previous May that year in Osaka, she set the Seiko meeting record in the 100m hurdles by clocking 12.71, also a national record that she has since lowered to 12.28. The meeting mark stood until last year, when Brianna Rollins won in 12.62 in Tokyo.
“I didn’t even know I had the meet record,” she said asked about losing it. “I’ll see if I can do that (12.62). To be honest, I have no idea. I know that I'm in good shape, that’s all I can say. But I don’t know what sort of good shape that means. We’ll have to wait and see on Sunday."
Pearson will be pushed by the US trio of Queen Harrison, Kristi Castlin and Tenaya Jones.
Harrison, who was fifth at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, is making her first trip to Japan. She started her season at the Drake Relays, where she was a member of the record-setting shuttle hurdle relay team that included Castlin, and placed fifth in the individual event in 12.76.
While Pearson is unsure of how fast she will run on Sunday, she remains confident she can again approach her PB, which she set in winning the 2011 world title in Daegu.
“I think my training is showing that I can get back into those times,” she says, while adding it is not her main goal. “I think medals for me are more of a priority, getting on to the podium all the time – hopefully with gold medals all the time.”
Pearson has her sights set on regaining the world gold this summer in Beijing. It was Rollins who relegated her to second place in Moscow two years ago, although the Australian found a silver lining in that result.
“Moscow for me felt like I had really won. I tore my hamstring twice before going into the World Championships, so I was on very limited preparation. It was a bit of a rush to get back into shape again, so to get silver there was really exciting.”
Bartoletta will also be looking to strike gold again at the World Championships, but her wait for a second has stretched to a decade, with plenty of pain and hardship in between.
World champion at age 19 in the long jump in 2005 under her maiden name Madison, she fell off the map in the event after breaking a knee in training in 2006, and has only regained her form in recent years.
“It feels like an entirely new career,” says Bartoletta, who credits a stint with bobsledding after the London Olympics as helping her perfect her steps in the long jump. “So I don’t often think about, ‘Oh, it’s been 10 years since my last world title’. I think, ‘This year, I want another world title’.”
At last year’s Golden Grand Prix, Bartoletta won the 100m but finished second in the long jump, 10 centimetres behind Darya Klishina, who won with a meeting-record leap of 6.88m. Not that she minded too much.
“After a seven-year hiatus from this (event), I was not upset that I lost,” says Bartoletta, who later in the year posted a world-leading mark of 7.02m. “I was elated that I was jumping 6.70m again after so long, which was basically the second-best jump of my career.”
Among the local entries, the host nation lost its marquee athlete when teen sprinter Yoshihide Kiryu pulled out of the meeting. Kiryu, Japan’s best hope to finally produce a sub-10-second sprinter cited fatigue and the long travel from the IAAF World Relays, where he helped the Japanese squad take home the bronze medal in the 4x100m.
Domestic interest will be focused on the men’s javelin as 2009 world bronze medallist Yukifumi Murakami and Olympic finalist Genki Dean take on Latvia’s Rolands Strobinders, Czech Republic’s Jakub Vadlejch and New Zealand’s Stuart Farquhar.
Ken Marantz for the IAAF