By the eighth day of the 2011 World Athletics Championships in Daegu, the joke about the programme “hoodoo” had become serious as a sequence of star turns featured on the front cover had failed to deliver.
Australia’s defending pole vault champion Steve Hooker had exited without completing a successful jump in the opening day’s qualifying, while on day two Usain Bolt was disqualified from the 100 metres final for false-starting.
On day three, Cuba's Dayron Robles was stripped of gold for bumping an opponent in the 110m hurdles and on day four world record holder Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia failed even to win a medal in the women’s pole vault.
Day five’s featured athlete, Russia’s Olga Kaniskina, had bucked the trend in winning the women’s 20km road race, but when Sally Pearson was the front-cover photo of choice three days later, there had still not been a featured track and field athlete who had managed to live up to their billing.
In exactly 12.28sec, that changed, as the Australian 100m hurdler claimed a first global gold in the world’s fourth-fastest ever time before haring over to the barriers to grab a copy of the daily programme with her face on the front cover and brandish it at the cameras with capering joy.
That may be my favourite memory of the athlete who has just announced her retirement at the age of 32 after a lengthening series of injuries.
But it is a close-run thing with the image of her jubilant, almost disbelieving finish to reclaim that world title six years down the line in London, on the same track where she had won Olympic gold in 2012.
Rare is the athlete for whom a career path runs smooth. Rare too, however, is the athlete who has been able to turn so much misfortune around in the course of a career.
Any TV sequence compressing Pearson’s career since she announced her presence as a 14-year-old - brought up by a single mother - in winning the Australian Youth title would surely turn to Chumbawumba’s Tubthumping, with its anthemic chorus: "I get knocked down, but I get up again, you are never going to keep me down..."
Two years before Daegu, Pearson had departed the track at the Berlin Stadium in tears, having failed to do better than fifth in the World Championship final.
She had been the favourite – but subsequently discovered she had been competing with a torn disc in her lower back.
Even by then, however, she had experienced the goading experience of frustration on the track, having tripped over a hurdle while looking as if she was on course for a medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games on her home soil of Melbourne.
A year later it was another’s misfortune in what is historically a potentially calamitous event that worked in her favour, as the Beijing 2008 Games favourite Lolo Jones of the United States stumbled at the last and Pearson - or McLellan as she still was then - took silver behind Jones’s compatriot Dawn Harper.
I first saw Pearson in person at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi and witnessed her torments in the 100m final as, despite being adjudged to have false-started, she ran in the re-started race and won it in 11.28 - only to lose the title following a protest from another team.
Just to keep the topsy-turvy theme of her career going, she subsequently took gold in the 100m hurdles.
Her victories in the semi-final and final at Daegu the following year were demonstrations of ruthless beauty, technically almost perfect. Nobody could beat Pearson that year - but that did not mean she remained unbeaten.
At the concluding Diamond League event of the season in Brussels, Pearson’s chances of topping the list in her event fell to earth as she tripped over the seventh hurdle, with Danielle Carruthers of the United States earning a win that meant she, rather than her Australian rival, collected that year’s Diamond Race Trophy and the accompanying prize of $40,000 (£33,000/€36,000).
I shared a bus back to the airport the following day with the lowered high hurdler and her husband, high school sweetheart Keiran Pearson. As other athletes, including Russia’s Daegu gold medallist in the women’s high jump, Anna Chicherova, got on, they commiserated with her.
A year later, both these athletes would collect Olympic gold medals in London. Pearson, who had received the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Women’s Athlete of the Year award in Monaco at the end of 2011, reversed the result of the Beijing final as she set an Olympic record of 12.35 ahead of Harper, who earned silver in 12.37.
Soon, however, there was more rough water to be negotiated. In 2015, at the Rome Diamond League meeting, her chances of contesting that year’s World Championships in Beijing disappeared in one excruciating moment as she fell heavily on her left arm, breaking it in several places, and several ways.
Having restored herself in time for the 2016 Olympic in Rio, where she looked ready to mount a strong defence of her title, she slightly tore a hamstring during a late training session – and was out.
By the time she reached the following year’s 100m hurdles final at the London World Championships, her season had been one of steady recuperation. She was reckoned to be a medal contender, rather than a title contender, as she faced a field that included Kendra Harrison of the United States, who had lowered the world record to 12.20 the previous year on the same track.
History records that Pearson took gold – and also a look of wonder on her face as she crossed the line.
Last year, another hamstring injury prevented her taking part in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, although she made a comeback at the Australian National Championships in April after an absence of 14 months.
In assessing her career this week, she has put that moment in 2017 on a par with her earlier Olympic triumph in London.
"I would like to say that the Olympic Games in 2012 was my most favourite memory but I must say 2017 World Championships for me was something that I proved to myself that I could still do it," she said.
"Even through the hard slog that I went through, I was still able to come back and be the victor at a major World Championships.
"For me, that was my proudest moment, for me as an athlete and coach because I was coaching myself. The London Olympics, though, will always take my heart."
There will, however, be no world title defence for her in Doha this year, nor a final throw of the dice at Tokyo 2020.
I am here to let you all know that I have decided to retire from my sport of athletics. It has been a long 16 years, but also a fun and exciting 16 years. My body has decided it is time to let it go, and move forward onto a new direction.— Sally Pearson OAM (@sallypearson) August 5, 2019
Posting on Instagram, Pearson said: "I have come to the point where I believe my body won't be able to cope with the demands and intensity of training and competition for me to be at my best to be able to bring home World Championship and Olympic gold medals.
"I have prided myself on always being on the start line ready to win. I no longer believe I can achieve this."
Speaking with characteristic honesty to the media in Sydney, Pearson said a hamstring injury five weeks ago, then Achilles tightness, had proved the final straw.
"The Achilles flared up and that was it. It hit boiling point and because of last year I wasn't going through that pain again. That was too much to take," she said.
"At the end of the day it was wearing me down as a person as well. I was unhappy and cranky all the time. I just wasn't a nice person to be around.
"For me, [I hope] just to get my life back now and hopefully no more injuries.
"I've known for a week now that I was going to be doing this. The first day I was deciding this with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.
"That was really hard to take. I knew it was the right decision. Making a decision about something that has been a part of my life for 20 years was hard to understand in a way.
"What do I do now? How do I announce myself to people, I'm a former athlete now? It is hard to take."
Asked about her future, Pearson said there were many paths she could take.
"It is going to be hard to find something that's going to excite me as much as my sport did and as much as my competing did for me because it was who I was and I enjoyed every minute of it," she said.
"Being down on the track with 80,000 people in the stands were my most peaceful moments.
"It was nice to be in my comfort zone. Now I have broken through the bubble, it is normal life now."
Differently-shaped hurdles now rear before her.
Watch her take them...