Freeman won an emotion-packed 400m at the 2000 Games on home soil in Sydney, the spark that Pearson said had ignited in her the desire to win Olympic gold, which she sealed in 12.35sec.
“I really wouldn’t have cared if I’d won in 14 seconds,” said a beaming Pearson. “I wanted that gold medal. I’ve been working for four years now to get that gold medal and it’s been a dream of mine for 12 years since I watched Cathy Freeman win her gold in Sydney. So it’s unbelievable.”
The race was not all plain sailing for 25-year-old Pearson, who was pushed to the line and held her nerve to win with a powerful dip finish.
The Australian’s time was an Olympic record and edged Beijing gold medallist Dawn Harper of USA, who timed a personal best of 12.37sec. American Kellie Wells claimed bronze in 12.48sec. With the times so close, there was a nervous wait to see who had won the race, and when Pearson’s name flashed up as the gold medallist, the Australian roared with delight before setting off on a lap of honour.
“It was funny because I crossed the finishing line and I’m like ‘oh yeah, I’m well clear of this’ and then I looked over and I’m like ‘maybe I’m not’,” said Pearson, who has been based in Britain for the last six weeks to escape the pressure in Australia.
“But I really did feel like I’d won that race.”