Olympics: Pearson defends Australia medal haul

by John Weaver

World champion hurdler Sally Pearson defended Australia's performance at the London Olympics Monday as she started her quest to put her country back on the gold medal trail.

At the start of day four of track and field action, sporting powerhouse Australia sat a lowly 24th in the overall medals table -- below the likes of Kazakhstan and North Korea -- with just one gold and 20 medals overall.

It is a far cry from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where they finished sixth in the table with a bumper haul of 14 golds and 46 medals in total. Disappointing showings in cycling and swimming have hit their tally in London.

But Pearson, who impressed in winning her heat for the women's 100m hurdles, qualifying quickest in a time of 12.57sec, played down the lack of golds, saying it was "exciting in our camp at the moment".

"I think Australia's done bloody well in these Games. We've got 20 medals all up. Everyone wants a gold medal but what's wrong with silver?" she asked.

Pearson, whose gold medal in last year's world championships was one of the stand-out performances of the event in South Korea, said she felt relaxed as she started her bid for Olympic gold.

"I'm feeling really bizarre right now. I don't really know. I'm pretty relaxed and casual and just taking one race and one hurdle at a time and that's how you have to do it," she said.

"I know those girls are right on my tail. They want to catch me and I'm just going to try and stay calm and just run through the race by myself," added the 25-year-old.

"It's a stacked race," said Pearson, elected as the IAAF female athlete of the year 2011.

"It always has been every single year and I'm used to it. I run against these girls every single time throughout the Diamond League so it's nothing new to me, it's just a matter of taking the Olympics out of it and making sure it's one race."

The only person to beat 2008 Olympic silver medallist Pearson this season is America's Kellie Wells, at last month's London Diamond League meeting.

Wells, third quickest overall, in 12.69sec, said: "I've got round one out of the way. Everything's comfortable and healthy and happy and the first one went really good. We're going to go back at it tomorrow and try to hit it again."

When asked what it would take to win amid such fierce competition, she said:

"Pure focus, that's it. We can't worry about anything else. No times. Just worry about me and my 10 hurdles and that's it."

Defending Olympic champion Dawn Harper was upbeat after she qualified for the semi-finals in a time of 12.75sec.

"It felt really good. It was good to be in the zone like I was," she said.

"I kind of shocked myself with the start I had. I never have that. We were working on that at practice.

"It's going to be a great race but I know that I can battle for it. I know that I can be in it and I know it's going to come down to a lane.

"No one's going to run away with it. You can't go into this race thinking 'this person has it, that person has it'. I respect that and it's going to be good. I want the competition."

jw/th