LONDON (AP) — Sally Pearson stood in the rain, hands on head, eyes fixed on a big screen, desperately willing her name to show up first so she wouldn't be another Olympic letdown for Australia.
For what seemed longer than it took Pearson to run the 100-meter hurdles — a games record 12.35 seconds — she waited and wondered if Dawn Harper had snuck up on her inside and dipped to beat her to an Olympic gold medal again.
The frontrunner for the last two seasons, Pearson got out of the blocks quickly Tuesday and had a lead until Harper lunged at the finish line.
"I didn't realize how close Dawn was until the end," she said. "I said in my head, 'Please don't let this happen. I need this.'"
When her name flashed up first — Pearson knew she was No. 1, narrowly in front of three Americans: 2008 gold medalist Harper; Kellie Wells, who had beaten the Australian in the last race coming into London; and Lolo Jones, who missed out on an Olympic medal again.
"Relief was the first thing I felt, and then shock," Pearson said. "I really wanted this. I've worked so hard. To be able to finally have that result beside my name is just the best thing in the world."
Pearson was considered lucky to get a silver medal in Beijing four years ago, and she celebrated it like she'd won the lottery. This time, the gold took longer to sink in.
Jones had been the leading hurdler in 2008, and had a decent lead in the Olympic final until she hit the penultimate hurdle and faded to finish seventh.
Pearson's silver medal in Beijing convinced her she could go one better in London.
"I've believed in myself for the last four years more than anything else," she said. "When I won silver in Beijing, that's when I knew I could be the best in the world.
"This is everything and more that I've ever wanted."
Pearson now holds all the major titles in the sprint hurdles — she won the world championships at Daegu, South Korea, last year and then the world indoors at Istanbul, Turkey, in March. She was voted the IAAF's female athlete of the year for 2011 in a season which contained a 19-race winning streak.
But it was the Olympic gold medal she'd wanted most since she was an impressionable teen watching Cathy Freeman win the Olympic 400-meters in 2000, one of the defining events of the Sydney Games.
"I thought," Pearson recounted, "I want that as well."
No Australian runner has been under more intense pressure than Freeman was in Sydney, where she lit the Olympic cauldron to open the games and then shrugged off the weight of a nation's expectations to win gold.
But Pearson's win still had great significance for a country that prides itself on punching above its weight in international competition.
Until her race, Australia had been languishing at the London Games, where it arrived with plans to finish in the top five of the medal table.
Instead, the powerful swimming squad only picked up one gold and that put the rest of the athletes under pressure.
None more than Pearson, the country's only genuine favorite for a track and field gold.
"The whole of Australia wanted me to win. I wanted to win — I call that support," she said. "At times I may have felt the pressure, but I'd quickly put that to the back of my mind and say, 'I want this, and I'm not going to let anyone stop me.'"
Freeman was quick to offer high praise, posting her congratulations on Twitter: "Simply fantastic Sally. Well deserved. Well done!!!"
Australians got up early to watch the race on TV, and many awoke to images of Pearson yelling with joy, falling onto her back on the track, with utter relief.
She got to her knees, then to her feet and quickly ran to the crowd and grabbed an Australian flag. On a full victory lap, she stopped to salute a group of fans waving green-and-gold flags and holding up inflatable boxing Kangaroos behind the start line.
Some had their doubts after Wells ended Pearson's 2012 unbeaten streak with victory in a warmup meet at London last month, giving the Americans high hopes of catching her again on a bad day. The U.S. hurdlers all achieved something, even in defeat. Harper finally broke the 12.40 barrier — finishing in 12.37 — and Wells ran a personal best. For Jones, her season-best time wasn't quite good enough for an Olympic medal that her commitment warrants.
"I had a good first four hurdles and then I got too upright and I didn't keep it together," Jones said. "At least I can lift my head a little higher and tell my kids about when their mom ran the Olympics.
"At least this time it was a clean, smooth race. It's a season's best so I'm pleased, but obviously I'm crushed."