By Ian Ransom
GOLD COAST, Australia (Reuters) - A Commonwealth Games already blighted by high-profile withdrawals suffered a hammer blow on Thursday, when the hosts' top track champion Sally Pearson was forced to pull out with a serious Achilles injury.
The 2012 Olympic champion Pearson, who won a second world title in the 100 meters hurdles at London last year, had been the face of the Gold Coast event, and far and away the top drawcard for athletics at Carrara Stadium.
A long-time resident of the balmy tourist resort in northeastern Queensland state, the 31-year-old Pearson was front and center in Wednesday's opening ceremony where a packed crowd roared her appearance as the final baton-bearer in the relay.
Yet she performed the task with a heavy heart, having decided two days earlier to cancel her bid for a third consecutive Commonwealth gold in her pet event.
"I had a big role to play in the opening ceremony which is why I waited until today to make the announcement," an emotional Pearson told reporters on Thursday.
"I did everything I possibly could. I left no stone unturned to run in the 100m hurdles and the 4x100m relay.
"Gutted. Absolutely gutted... There were a lot of tears flowing.
"I guess you could call it grief. I was double and triple checking it was the right decision (to withdraw). Not being able to go out on that track and run for Australia is gut wrenching."
Organizers will also feel the pinch, having lost Olympic and world 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk to injury in the leadup.
The South African's withdrawal followed a number of snubs by the world's top athletes, including Kenyan Olympic 800m champion David Rudisha and Canada's triple Olympic sprint medalist Andre De Grasse.
After her gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, Pearson suffered through four injury-plagued years and stepped back from the brink of retirement before coaching herself to her second world title.
She faces another long road back, confirming her season was over before it had began and that her injury could ultimately derail her longer term hopes of competing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Retirement, however, was "not an option".
"I guess this tendon is going to be very unpredictable for the next few years," she said.
"And it's about managing that and keeping it as strong as possible so that I am in the best possible shape for next year, the world championships and the Olympic Games.
"I am actually looking forward to that and I'm very excited, very open-minded and I love to learn about being a better coach as well."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford and Sudipto Ganguly)