General News

Sally McLellan is Australia's new gem

Sally McLellan of Australia wins her 100m Hurdles heat (Getty Images)Sally McLellan of Australia wins her 100m Hurdles heat (Getty Images) © Copyright

There has been a lot of speculation about Jason Richardson and Usain Bolt’s heavy competition schedules here in Sherbrooke but what about Sally McLellan’s programme?

Today, the 16-year old Australian ran four races and more important had only 40 minutes to spare between the final of the 100m Hurdles and that of the 200m.

Juggling between the longer flat sprint and the Hurdles, McLellan also ran the 200 metre leg of Australia’s medley relay which unfortunately didn’t go according to plan as the quartet was disqualified for an illegal baton exchange.

But the one and only thing that really did matter for McLellan today was winning gold in the 100m Hurdles, an event in which she incontestably was the number one pre-race favourite.

After establishing a new world youth best of 13.14 in the first round and clocking 13.16 in the semis, a strong head wind of 1.9 metre and an evident fatigue saw her clocking ‘only’ 13.42 in the final of tonight.

But the time was the last thing McLellan was concerned with as she crossed the finish line her arms spread in the air and a broad smile on her face. The title was hers.

“What is really important to me was winning the Hurdles,” said McLellan after her finals of today. “I am happy I could run the 200m final as well but that was just a bonus for me. I certainly didn’t want to lose the title in the Hurdles.”

And indeed she secured the gold medal despite a mediocre start and heavily clipping the last barrier. In the middle part of the race, where McLellan is strongest, the Australian used all her speed and power to distance the two girls running on her inside.

“Coming off the final hurdle, I thought she (Latoya Greaves) was going to catch up on me. I just said to myself ‘GO. Go as fast as you can.’”

Jamaica’s Latoya Greaves eventually finished second in 13.40 with USA’s Domenique Manning in third (13.60).

Despite the short rest that she was given before the 200m final, McLellan didn’t want to miss out on her first lap of honour. And she probably didn’t want to delay hugging her mother who was proudly waiting for her in the stands.

“She is going to be so proud of me. I am sure she is going to cry when I step on the podium.”

For the records, McLellan also finished 5th of the 200m final in 24.01, two tenths below her personal best time of 23.88 but who would dare blaming her for that! Her championship was already a success and one that wouldn’t be taken away from her.

“My coach did give me the option not to run the 200 metres but I wasn’t going to have it. I knew I was going to be very tired but I also know I am very strong in my mind,” she continued. “One has to be strong physically but also mentally.”

And she definitely proved she was mentally prepared for her multiple challenges.

“I feel a mixture of excitement and happiness right now," said McLellan after her 200m. “I am tired but I am so proud of what I just did. I ran the 200 metres at the best of my abilities but you can’t expect to win everything. One world title is already a great achievement.”

McLellan credits her mum as the person who first introduced her to the universe of sport. “She thought I would be good at sport so that’s how I got started.”

At the tender age of 4 McLellan took her very first sporting steps in gymnastics, a discipline she used to adore. It wasn’t exactly a personal decision which led her to the world of athletics but more a trick of fate.

“We moved from New South Wales to Queensland so I had to quit my gymnastics club. My mum knew of a very good athletics centre nearby and made me join it.”

Curiously, the one event in which she is the strongest 17-year old in the world was that she didn’t enjoy.

“I started running hurdles when I was 12 or maybe 13 and at first I didn’t like it at all. It’s only when I got better at it and started winning races that I actually started enjoying it.”

Another multi talented Australian young girl, Jana Pittman, was arguably the best athlete – together with Mark Lewis Francis of Great Britain and Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia – who emerged four years ago from the inaugural edition of these championships but McLellan’s athletics inspiration comes from someone else.

“My idol is Cathy Freeman. She competed in her first Commonwealth championships when she was 16 and I am running in these championships at 16. So there is that little similarity between the two of us!”