Megan Simmonds ready to fill void left by hero Pearson
Jamaica’s Megan Simmonds might be one of the smallest runners, but she looms as a big gold medal favourite in the women's 100m hurdles after world and two-time defending Commonwealth Games champion Sally Pearson withdrew from the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games due to an Achilles injury.
Standing at just 1.56 metres, Simmonds does not look like your typical hurdler, but nobody attacks them harder than the 24-year-old.
The fierce way she races is a stark contrast to her bubbly personality which stole the show at a recent media conference where she showed off her dance moves to a fawning Australian media contingent.
But make no mistake, dance moves aside, Simmonds is here for business.
“My husband told me not to come home without a medal,” she told GC2018.com.
“And I do not intend to.”
Simmonds grew up idolising Pearson – the former favourite for the women’s 100m hurdles gold medal - and had a surreal moment when competing against her hurdling inspiration for the first time.
“I looked up to Sally. She is a phoenix. She is amazing,” she said.
“The first time I raced against her, we had to wait in the back, we were standing next to each other and she turned around and said ‘I know you’.
“It was the year after the Olympics and I couldn’t believe she knew who I was.
“That was exciting, oh my goodness, Sally Pearson knows who I am. To be at a level where I am now competing against her, I’m proud of myself, it is really exciting.”
Simmonds, like Pearson, is known for her lightning quick starts.
In fact, she turned to hurdles because she didn’t have the staying power of her fellow Jamaican powerhouse sprinters on the flat distances.
“I had a really good start and a good get-out for 60 metres and then everyone would pass me,” she said.
“Not just one or two, everybody.
“I’m a caged lion behind the blocks, I’m thinking about popping out of those blocks. I get a really good start, I don’t have to focus on that first hurdle. I am a good starter, but I need to work on the finish of my race, because I fade. I faded in the flat race and now I fade in the hurdles.
“I’m trying to get stronger, we do a lot of long running, at training we do 200s, 250s and 300s. I’m not really good at that stuff, but it makes me better. That will allow me to get better in my race.”
Simmonds’ strong ability in the hurdles is directly linked with her gymnastics background. She started the sport when she was seven and only gave it up at 12, to focus on her passion, the track.
It’s not just her ability to clear the hurdles that she credits to gymnastics, it is also a strong drive and self-discipline that has helped her become a national champion.
“Gymnastics is one of the best foundations a child can have,” Simmonds emphasized.
“Pointblank, it is so good. It teaches discipline, perseverance, determination.
“It was a culture shock, because Jamaicans are laidback and relaxed and gymnastics is the opposite. I think it is a great start for any child. It is great for you in anything you do in life.
“I did gymnastics, but I loved track. It was my parents pushing me towards gymnastics, but track was always my first love. I actually thought about being the first person to go to the Olympics for gymnastics and track, which was virtually impossible.”
Perseverance is not a buzz word for a cheap quote.
At the 2015 Jamaican national trials, Simmonds was easily winning her semifinal until disaster struck.
She clipped the second last hurdle, tripped and hit the final hurdle, which sent her sprawling onto her stomach and out of the race.
Simmonds laid on her back until she was consoled by fellow athletes. After a few seconds the spirit and joy of the athlete prevailed. She broke out into a smile and waved enthusiastically to the crowd to show she was okay.
A year later she made amends. She became the national champion, punching her fists as she crossed the line.
There is a strong passion and desire – and plenty of personality – in Simmonds.
The young hurdler has a strong work ethic thanks to her gymnastics background, but it is reinforced every day as part of the renowned Jamaican MVP club, where she trains alongside dual Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, defending 400m Commonwealth Games champion Stephenie-Ann McPherson, and world and Olympic bronze medallist Shericka Jackson.
“I’m more excited for training, this is where you actually win,” she said.
“Usain Bolt said that, and it is true. Training is where you become a world champion, it is where you win. I’m really excited to use this facility [Runaway Bay Sports Super Centre] to the best of my ability, to get better, to race.
“The racing is the easy part.”
Tickets to watch Megan Simmonds race and other great tickets are still available. Snap up yours today.