ON THURSDAY night, Lynsey Sharp was bent double, vomiting, outside her room in the athletes’ village before being taken to hospital and put on a drip for three hours. Last night, she was standing proudly on the podium, a Commonwealth Games silver medallist.
The Scottish athlete has been through so much over the past 16 months, battling against injury then fighting to recover in surgery, that she could have been forgiven if she had thought long ago that she was destined not to compete at the Games. Even a month ago, still short of race fitness, she had yet to achieve the minimal standard required just to qualify for the Scotland team.
So this latest setback, the result of a stomach virus contracted a couple of days ago, might easily have been the blow that convinced her the fates were conspiring against her. Instead, although still far short of full health, she raced one of the calmest 800 metres of her career. Sitting in the inside lane for the first lap and more as world champion Eunice Sum took the race out, Sharp followed the Kenyan’s kick for the line some 150m from home. Outpacing England’s Jessica Judd and Jenny Meadows to get into third place, she then forced her way ahead of Winnie Nanyondo of Uganda in the final few feet before the line.
Sum was the winner in 2mins 00.31 sec with Sharp second in 2:01.34, four-hundredths of a second in front of Nanyondo. In a race dictated by tactics rather than a mere determination to run as quickly as possible, Sharp had again shown her intelligence and composure to be superior to all but the fastest two-lap runner in the world. Achieving that status when in peak condition is hard enough: doing it when you are still suffering from a debilitating bug is little short of miraculous.
“It doesn’t feel real,” the 24-year-old said. “You all know what I’ve been through this year – and even this morning has been a nightmare. This just means so much to me, given the obstacles I’ve overcome.
“Last night I went out for dinner, because I just thought it was the food in the village I wasn’t enjoying. I ordered a lovely £20 steak – and I couldn’t face it.
“I got back to the village, threw up for a few hours and Stephen Maguire [Scottish Athletics director of coaching] took me across to the clinic.
“I was there till half five this morning on a drip. All I’ve eaten today is porridge and scrambled egg. I just came out here to leave everything on the track. To have one more obstacle thrown at me was just laughable – I had one shot, two minutes to give it everything.
“At half two last night, I couldn’t bend over to take my socks off because the cramps were so bad. I was wondering how the hell I could run. But somehow, another miracle.
“I slept from half five until nine, then an hour before lunch. But I don’t know how I managed that. I’m just hoping I can enjoy some rubbish food now. I’ve been looking forward to it for days and weeks.
“Two things I’ll never forget. One is being on my hands and knees being sick, with the nurse holding my hair back, Stephen Maguire holding my hair back – and four big police officers walking away at the sound of me being sick. The other thing is being doubled over, trying to take my socks off while Steph Twell was sleeping in the room.”
While Sum’s class is undeniable, Sharp believes she could have got the better of the Kenyan had she been in full health. Certainly, she has been in the form of her life over the last few weeks, dipping under two minutes for the first time.
“I think I’d have won it if I’d been 100 per cent,” she said. “If someone had said at half two this morning I’d have a silver medal I’d have said ‘yeah, whatever’.”
After the first round on Wednesday, Sharp had explained she had been feeling nauseous and had skipped breakfast. After Thursday night’s semi-finals, in which she only scraped through as a fastest loser, she blamed herself for a relatively slow run rather than revealing there was anything wrong with her. Last night, she walked out on to the track determined to throw everything she had into getting it right and claiming a fourth track-and-field medal of the Games for the host nation.
“Written on my hand is ‘Go out strong and commit’,” she continued. “The crowd were so intimidating.
“I don’t mean that to sound bad, but yesterday I kind of sh** myself on the line. So I needed something to take me away from the moment. I embraced it today. I knew they were here for me.
“It’s probably the first time ever I’ve run on the inside and taken the shortest route. I could have panicked, but something told me to sit there. I could see a gap and tried to track the leaders.
“Because I’ve been working with Rana Reider, the sprints coach, I was just trying to keep my technique in the home straight. It was probably disgustingly messy.”
It was far from that. It was inspiringly neat and focused.
Sharp added that her own inspiration had come from her parents, Carol and former Commonwealth relay champion Cameron, who has restricted mobility as a result of a car crash more than 20 years ago. “I’ve not spoken to my dad for a few days. It’s been so difficult to sort out tickets and stuff I’ve just tried to remove myself from all the s**t that has gone on.
“I’ve just spoken to my mum and made sure my dad has got in every day and got home safely. I need to check, but he had hospitality tickets thanks to Dell. Allan Wells [who ran with Cameron Sharp] came to see me in the village earlier this week and he gave me a signed picture of him and my dad. They look like they’re holding hands and he put a really nice message on it, saying to stay focused and determined.
“I put it up on my wall in the village above my bed. To have people like him here... Seb Coe said I could nick a medal, it means so much to me. These guys are legends.
“What happened to my dad has made me the person I am and made me strong. My mum and dad are so strong. My mum fought for my dad and my dad has literally fought for his life. It’s made me strong.
“I met my mum and sister [on her lap of honour] – that’s when I started crying. This is above everything, the year I’ve been through. I don’t think anything will ever top that.”