Resilient performers

Sally Pearson, Adam Gemili and Dina Asher-Smith are three athletes who came into the recent World Championships off the back of major injury setbacks. All three had different circumstances but picked themselves up off the floor to perform at their absolute best when it mattered. What can we learn from them?

For Sally Pearson, an Olympic Gold in London 2012 must have seemed a lifetime ago. Longstanding wrist and hamstring problems had left her a shadow of her former self in recent seasons and her last major championship was in 2013. But coming into 2017 she managed to stay healthy even though her early season races were short of her best from years previously. What Sally could do tap into was the wealth of experience she had acquired. She and the team around her know how to prepare and be ready when it matters. "I've got the most tight-knit little squad, I call them Team Pearson - my friends and my mum and my husband and my training partners, (although) I've only got two of them," she said. Pearson stayed patient, kept on improving and when pre-race favourite Kendra Harrison made mistakes under pressure Sally was there to take the Gold.

Adam Gemili didn’t scale the same heights in 2012 but as a teenage breakthrough performer he was clearly a future star. His progress has been a stop start of injuries and outstanding performances, including a 4th place in the Rio Olympics last year. Early in the season he broke down and had a lengthy period of rehab. Still short of fitness at the British trials in July he wasn’t selected for the individuals 200m but was included as a relay team member. Frustrated, angry and disappointed, it would have been easy for him to take his foot off the gas and just make up the numbers in the worlds or even write off his season completely. In the event he did the opposite and went full tilt knowing there was nothing to lose. After his trials disappointment he said “I’ve just got to accept I am part of the relay team and focus on that”. Come the World Championship final he ran a stunning back straight relay leg in 9 secs in which he goes past the competition as if they are standing still and sets up the British team for a national record. The outcome, World Championship Gold, when many athletes would have been on the sofa still bitching about their bad luck and the unfairness of the selection process.

Dina Asher-Smith was another young athlete making rapid progress in recent years. For her, this was the first major injury of her career. Arriving in London less than fully fit after fracturing her right foot and having screws inserted, she took the competition one race at a time with a focus on just performing to the best of her fitness. As each round of the 200m progressed Dina got faster and faster, ending up 4th in the final just 7 one-hundredths of a second away from a medal. But that wasn’t the end. With another 2 races in the 4x100m she was able to continue racing herself fit and ended the championships with a Silver medal in the 4x100m final. Reflecting on her performance she said “Arguably, this injury has done more for me in the long term mentally than having an easy season and getting a medal would have,” she adds. “That sounds crazy as a medal would have been fantastic, but when you are young you have to go through trials and tribulations to realise what real problems are. I’d rather get all my learning experiences now – so when I am older I have got that mental prep to do the business when I am physically at my peak.”

With resilience skills like those you wouldn't bet against Pearson winning more medals and Gemili and Asher-Smith being on top of the podium at a major championship in future.

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