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All eyes turn to Pearson as swimmers fail to deliver

Sally Pearson is under huge pressure to bring home a gold medal. Credit: Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

If Sally Pearson wasn’t feeling the heat prior to the start of the Games, she would certainly be feeling it now.

As the first week of competition comes to a close, Australia’s bleak medal tally makes for depressing reading.

No-one needs to be told. Our team has managed just one gold – courtesy of the women’s 4 x 100m freestyle.

Swimming is far and away our most dominant sport. It’s the first week of competition where we shine, and in past Games, it’s been a common sight to see the Aussies in top place on the medal tally after the first few days.

It’s hard not to wince a little when you see us sitting down in 17th position after our strongest events.

Australia placed fourth in Athens with 17 gold and sixth in Beijing with 14 gold. It’s extremely difficult to even fathom us coming close to that mark this time around.

Being in London, it’s hard to gauge the public reaction back home, but the disappointment is evident whenever you talk to a fellow Aussie over here.

We need a white knight to salvage what shapes up as a disastrous Games – and that can only come in the form of Sally Pearson.

Anna Meares, Steve Hooker, the Kookaburras and the Stingers are all strong chances to claim gold, and Sam Willoughby and Caroline Buchanan look the goods in the BMX.

But it’s athletics where Australia really needs a win.

While it might seem unfair to single her out in a field of athletes, we need Pearson to win for a myriad of reasons.

She’s our golden girl in the glamour sport of the games – track running.  Athletics has never been our strong suit, and we haven’t won a medal on the track since Cathy Freeman in 2000.

Like Freeman, Pearson is under an immense amount of pressure. She’s a victim of her own lofty standards. Anything less that a gold from her would be another stomach punch to bleary eyed Aussie fans.  We’re counting on this one.

A rare gold on the track is exactly what the country needs right now.

The one thing playing in her favour is that she is well and truly out of the spotlight in London. She wouldn’t be oblivious to the hopes that rest on her, nor the lackluster efforts of the team so far, but she can exist in her own bubble and can step outside her hotel without being hounded. She can pick up a newspaper and not see her face plastered on the back pages – a luxury Freeman never had.

Still, she must know the spotlight and expectation has been turned solely in her direction as the first day of track and field gets underway.

She’s in a dangerous situation where nothing but gold will be considered a success.

It’s one thing to miss out on gold in events where we’re considered an outside chance.

It’s an entirely different thing to miss medals in events where Aussies are heavy favourites.

As reigning world champion and the most consistent 100 metre hurdler in the word right now, Pearson is expected to go one better than her Beijing silver, and along with James Magnussen has been labeled our greatest hope for gold for over a year.

After the Missile failed to deliver, it falls to Pearson.

While many may think it’s harsh to be so shattered at the lack of gold, or not excited about silver and bronze, people need to acknowledge the importance and significance of sport to Australia as a nation.

Our cultural identity is shaped by our success in sport.

We punch well above our weight on the international scene, and it’s a source of immense pride.

To see the Australian team languishing at outside the top 15 on the table hurts.

While gold to Pearson alone obviously wouldn’t significantly boost our medal tally, it would certainly go a long way to boosting morale – and would definitely bring some positive press to an Australian outfit that appears to be more under the pump every day.

Erin Byrnes, in London









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