Hooked up to a drip the night before her race, the Scot tells Moira Gordon how the hard work paid off
IN the depths of winter, Lynsey Sharp trained in a long, dark, lonely tunnel to avoid the ice and snow. In front of an ecstatic Hampden crowd on Friday night, she discovered that there was light at the end of it. It had been an arduous and emotional journey, full of injuries, setbacks, hardships and illness, which tested her resolve and forced her to dig deep to discover just how much she really wanted success in her home Commonwealth Games. In the darkest moments, when hopes were slim and life was grim, she learned she wanted it badly.
That is why even a trip to hospital the night before her final was never going to prevent Sharp from turning up at the start line, despite the last-minute assurances from her concerned family that they would understand if she withdrew from the race she has been dreaming of since before she had even pulled on a Scotland vest at the Commonwealth Youth Games.
From the moment she knew Glasgow would host the 20th Commonwealth Games, Sharp has been focused on playing her part in the sporting carnival and contributing to the country’s medal haul.
Having overcome a succession of foot and leg injuries and undergone surgery that left her with an open sore on her leg and rendered her dependent on antibiotics until she can go back under the knife and get the infection dealt with, she still managed to get herself into the best shape of her life ahead of these games, posting personal bests in the run-up. But still her levels of resolve were pushed further. In the days before her game Sharp picked up a bug that left her queasy and peaky. She struggled through to the final but on the night before one of the most eagerly-anticipated races of her life she found herself in a medical centre hooked up to a drip to combat the dehydration caused by her vomiting.
“My sister texted me sometime between 5.30am [when the European 800m champion finally got back to her apartment at the athlete’s village] and breakfast and said ‘we would totally understand if you don’t want to run, you have done so well, you have come so far’. I read it and thought ‘there is no way I’m not going to run’.
“I then went and spoke to my mum in the Tesco car park and I can’t remember what she said, it was something like ‘are you going to run or are you not?’. I said I was 100 per cent doing it. They were probably worried about me but they probably knew that if I was going to do it I would be OK, because I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think I would do all right.“
Her dad Cameron Sharp – the man who passed on his his athletic prowess as well as his stubbornness to Sharp, she says – was not so convinced. He had been to the national stadium to watch her get through to the final but felt he couldn’t cope with watching his daughter in such circumstances.
“I was so annoyed [when I found out]. It was only last night, really late, just before I left my mum that she said that she said he wasn’t there and I was like ‘What?!’ She said he didn’t want me to run because he was really worried. He thought I would end up in hospital. He’s sent me two emails, slightly sheepish, but saying ‘you did really well’.
As she stood on the track that was the best she had dared to hope for. “I had nothing to lose, I don’t think anyone was expecting anything after the semi-finals, because I didn’t run great while Jess [Judd, the Englishwoman] had won her semi. I just said to myself: ‘I have come this far, and the amount of obstacles I have overcome, this is the last one. All I have to do is run for two minutes. If I run as hard as I can for the first 600m, and if I die, I die. At least I have given it my best shot.’
“[Fellow Scot] Emily Dudgeon ran amazingly in the semi-final and everyone was so proud of her because she ran such a gutsy race. I knew that if I could walk off with everyone knowing I had ran a good race I would be happy.”
Sharp surpassed that, though, her guts and determination carrying her out of the final bend and down the home straight. With everyone in the stadium on their feet and the vast majority roaring Sharp on, she burst over the line, empty but bursting with pride, the silver medal secured.
As dawn was breaking that morning she had been on her way back to the athletes village with the Scotland athletics team manager Stephen Maguire, who informed her that at least she would have a good story to tell. It’s an emotional one.
“I try to say to people that was they see on the track is five per cent of what I do. The other day I was with the physio getting acupuncture in my bum and he said; ‘If people could see what you go through to run for two minutes.’ It’s a tiny part, the running, but I guess it’s the nice part,” said the 24-year-old. “I just wish someone had done a documentary about the whole injury situation because it’s so hard to explain. But I know I need to enjoy this moment because I’ve put so much work in to get to this point.”
Sharp will have that much-needed operation in September and then she will have a well-deserved holiday. But first she has a European title to defend.