Athletics: Capital’s queen of the track
For new Olympian Lynsey Sharp, there is a very special benefit attached to the type of sporting background she comes from.
It is encouraging enough that mum, 800-metre runner Carol (née Lightfoot) and dad, 200-metre European silver medallist Cameron, were international athletes in their own right.
But anybody with even a passing acquaintance to Chris Paterson will know Scotland’s most capped rugby player is the ideal sporting next door neighbour, a most clean-living of individuals who could always be relied upon to give training-disruptive all-night parties the widest of berths . . .
“I remember one occasion when Chris had a barbecue and the entire Scottish rugby team seemed to be there,” laughed Sharp as she paused from preparations for London 2012 to speak exclusively to the Evening News.
“My friends just thought it so cool that all these famous players were virtually in my back garden.” Paterson has gone on record to praise the dedication shown by Sharp, Britain’s sole representative in the 800 metres, in making regular trips to Dundee at one time for specialised coaching. The admiration is mutual, though she admits it was difficult sharing training information across the fence, far less go on the occasional neighbourly stamina building run.
What Sharp did have in common with one of the current Scotland rugby stars, Matt Scott, is the ability over the past few years to combine top-class sport with a law degree.
Both graduated last week, although for a time Sharp was tempted to defer her final six months of studying.
“I was fine up until Christmas, then I said to my mum I was thinking of suspending my course because it was tough. But I got through it and I’m now glad I did,” said Sharp, in revealing that at times during her studies she has looked to her own sport for inspiration.
Take the dissertation that was necessary to complete her law degree, for example.
“I did it on Caster Semenya and the regulations surrounding the topic,” she explained.
For those not au fait with Semenya, she is the South African runner who struck gold at the 2009 World Championships in the 800 metres, the same event that Sharp will contest.
Following that victory, however, it was announced that Semenya had been subjected to “gender testing” and she was withdrawn from international competition until July 2010 when the IAAF cleared her to return.
“I ran against her in 2008 at the Commonwealth Youth Games before she was in the spotlight. I spoke to her just before medal presentation but she wasn’t very talkative. No-one really is in a competitive environment.
“Before I did it I thought she shouldn’t be allowed to run and that was it. But, after doing it, I thought ‘hmmm, I can see both sides of it’.
“My dissertation was about the legal challenges that could be made in her situation.”
Sharp’s selection for the 800m has caused a stir in its own right. The 21-year-old narrowly failed to get the Olympic A standard qualifying time, albeit there are no shortage of admirers who applaud Team GB’s stance given a silver medal at the recent European Championships in Helsinki as a follow-up to Olympic trial success. That underlies the fact she is very much the form candidate.
And what a journey it has been to this juncture. She was born in Dumfriesshire but her family moved to Edinburgh following a road accident which left her dad with partial brain damage, requiring specialist treatment.
“My dad was taken to the Astley Ainslie Hospital and we moved to Edinburgh. I attended the Mary Erskine School, which is somewhere I regard as a really special place.
“The way I am is because of my school and I feel really fortunate to have gone there.”
The other places in the city to make their mark on Sharp are perhaps a little less intellectual.
“I enjoy Italian food so a favourite spot for me is Guiliano’s Restaurant opposite the Playhouse Theatre, or Cuckoo’s Bakery in Dundas Street as I’m a sucker for their cupcakes.”
There are less fond memories of an unusual training spot – the Innocent Railway Tunnel which passes along the edge of Holyrood Park.
“It really is quite a scary place but for two successive winters the weather was so bad I had nowhere else to train,” recalled Sharp.
“It was my only option but I should have taken a hint from the occasion we were going there through snow that was so bad our car got stuck in a drift.
“I told my mum, ‘this is ridiculous’, but she had trained on the same half mile stretch during her athletics career and found it useful.
“Whether or not I was doing speedwork would determine whether I ran up or downhill.
“There were occasions, though, in the semi-darkness of the tunnel, that I’d stand at one end and shout back to my mum that I was okay!”
Many of the training drills were prescribed by Sharp’s coach, Dave Sunderland, who is based in England.
“It’s not an ideal situation but we speak on the phone, sometimes two or three times a day, and he passes on information and my mum supervises my sessions in Edinburgh,” she explained.
“Most of those sessions take place at Meadowbank – it is very much a second home – and I usually do things on my own. I’m not someone who likes to surround herself with training partners, although there are a few people who help out – including an ex-boxer who has asked me never to reveal his name as he just wants to keep in the background.”
Keeping in the background is something that will be increasingly beyond Sharp when the athletics events get under way, and she is genuinely mystified by local reaction to her selection so far.
“I went along to Meadowbank as usual this week and some of the younger athletes were very complimentary and I just had to keep telling them, ‘but I’m just me’.
“It’ll be great if myself and the other Scottish Olympian athletes (Eilish McColgan – 3000m steeplechase; Eildh Child – 400m hurdles; and Lee McConnell – 400m and relay) can inspire others to take up the sport. There will be hype but I’ll just keep my head down and try to do the best I can, knowing I am coming into form with every chance of a personal best time in London.”
That statement is borne out by not only the European silver medal from Finland but victory in the Olympic trials and by now, surely, Lynsey’s name will spelled correctly by the wider media – she had to give them a cheerful ticking off via Twitter after one too many “Is” and “Ds”.
Another fact she is keen to set straight concerns so-called lucky socks.
“I’ve been reading in a few places that I wear lucky socks but that hasn’t happened since 2009 when I got a hole in one of them and then I got injured,” said Sharp.
Lucky socks or not, if there was a gold medal for affability then it would surely be in the bag already for Edinburgh’s own queen of the track.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east