Pearson left to wonder what might have been
Shelley Pearson hailed her performance in yesterday’s singles sculls quarter-finals at the Olympic Games as “the best race of her life”.
It just was not quite good enough to secure her the top-three finish she needed to achieve her goal of reaching the B final of the competition.
The 25-year-old always knew the A final was out of reach but believed a top-12 finish was a realistic possibility should she conjure up something special.
Lining up against a world-class field, Pearson had a strong final 500 metres as she scraped the last ounce of energy from her exhausted body in an effort to reel in Carling Zeeman of Canada in third place.
Not even her lucky socks, a gift from her best friend Mary McGinnis, a former United States Under-23 team-mate, could do the trick.
“I’m bummed I didn’t get through and it wasn’t quite enough but it was one hell of a race,” said Pearson, who finished in a time of 7min 34.90sec.
“I would say being as close as I was to some of those competitors today, people who have won Olympic medals, is pretty incredible. It will be a while before that fully sinks in and I’m quite proud of that. I’d say it was the best race I’ve ever had.”
Pearson was fifth of six rowers in heat three after the opening 500 before overtaking Chierika Ukogu of Nigeria and remained in fourth for the rest of the contest. Her split times were 1:52.72 after 500, 3:48.18 after 1,000, and 5:42.90 after 1,500.
She appeared to be closing in on Leema, a double gold medal-winner at last summer’s Pan Am Games in Toronto, but the finishing post came too soon. Her time was the fourteenth fastest in the quarter-finals.
Fie Udby Erichsen of Denmark, a silver-medal winner at the London Olympics in 2012, won the race in 7:33.24. Micheen Thorncroft of Zimbabwe came second in 7:34.38 while Leema crossed the line in 7:34.52.
“My start has never been my strong suit and even after just 500 I knew I had to start reeling them in,” said Pearson, who finished third in her heat on Saturday in 8:22.15.
“When I got through to the 1,000 I knew I had to go and started to bring it up to see what I could do.
“I’m an in-the-moment rower and although I have a few key phrases that I use often, for the most part my brain is pretty focused.”
Yesterday’s conditions at the postcard-ready Lagoa Rodrigo de Freita were much improved from Saturday’s heats, which Pearson described as the worst she had experienced.
She is hoping for more of the same in today’s consolation semi-finals when she competes for a place in the C final.
Studying for a master’s degree in business administration at Oxford University, who Pearson represented in the first Women’s Boat Race to be contested on the Thames, is hardly the best preparation for the Olympics.
Pearson now wonders what she could achieve if she devoted more time to her passion.
“[My performances] certainly give me hope for the future,” she said.
“Any rower would tell you that I’ve done everything wrong this year. I was a full-time student taking a really hard course, didn’t have a team to train with and was doing pieces by myself [at Dorney Lake, where the London Olympics rowing events were held].
“Seeing what I can do with all of those things going wrong makes me wonder what could I do if I was doing things correctly, and that’s exciting.”