Lynsey Sharp: Mixed emotions on drug cheats

Yelena Arzhakova denied Lynsey Sharp, left, European gold in Helskinki but has since failed a drugs test. Picture: Getty
Yelena Arzhakova denied Lynsey Sharp, left, European gold in Helskinki but has since failed a drugs test. Picture: Getty
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YOU always have conflicting emotions when someone in your sport fails a drugs test. Those emotions are all the stronger when it has a direct effect on your own results.

Every day since Yelena Arzhakova was given a two-year ban and had her results since July 2011 annulled, people have asked me how I felt. I crossed the line second behind her in last year’s European Championships in Helsinki, and was also third to her in the 2011 European Under 23 Championships.

A couple of times it has crossed my mind to ask ‘what’s the point?’ if I’m competing against people who don’t care about the fact that they’re cheating.

They’re denying other people, who are not cheating, the opportunity to stand on top of the podium, hear their national anthem and do a lap of honour. Those things were what annoyed me most.

Arzhakova and the bronze medallist (also Russian) did a lap of honour together, with their flag, and that now infuriates me. But the situation is improving due to tests based on biological passports, which track athletes over a period of time.

You’ve just got to hope there are more clean people in the sport than there are not. If you thought most people in our sport were cheating in this way, hardly anyone would want to make the sacrifices necessary to compete at world level.

So it feels really bad when you hear someone has been caught doping, but at the same time we should feel grateful that they’ve been caught.

Yes, I was happy, but obviously it doesn’t feel like it would have felt if I had won it on the day. And it was nine months ago.

While I’m angry that Arzhakova cheated, I’m happy that I will be upgraded and she was caught by the system in place.

European Athletics have not changed the official result on their website as yet, so I’m not going to tempt fate by calling myself European champion yet, as she has 45 days to appeal.

Some people have suggested that she won’t have any grounds for appeal as the ban is due to issues with her biological passport, but I’m not taking that for granted.

The announcement came while I was in America, where I was training and racing for five weeks. The highlight of that stay came at the Penn Relays, the annual meeting in Philadelphia, where Marilyn Okoro, Jemma Simpson, Tara Bird and I set a new British record for the 4x800-metres relay.

I didn’t originally know if I was going to be racing there – it was just a rough plan.

And I didn’t even know about the record until British Athletics published a preview which said the team were going for the record. So I just thought: ‘Oh, okay then, cool.’

The previous record wasn’t great – to break it, each of us had to run faster than 2mins 05sec and we knew that was very achievable – and the event isn’t run that often.

But it’s still nice to have it, as it shows we have more strength in depth in the 800m now, and record attempts could become more regular at the Penn Relays.

The meeting itself was great fun. There was a fantastic atmosphere, with a big Jamaican contingent in the crowd, and dancing outside the stadium. It felt more like a festival than an athletics meeting.

Then Seb Coe popped up out of nowhere, which was really fantastic, because he wasn’t working at all – he was just there in a personal capacity, and wanted to see what the meeting was like as he’d never competed there himself. He may be seen as ‘that guy up there’, a high-ranking official, but he was so nice. He came and spoke to each of us after the race about how we ran.

My time in the US was longer than I’ve gone away for at the start of previous seasons, and I was able to race a few times as well as doing some serious training.

It was very important preparation for this season, which is going to be really tough.

In Britain alone, as well as me in the 800m, there’s Jemma, Marilyn and Emma Jackson. Jenny Meadows is back, and there are a couple of younger athletes in the mix.

There are three 800m slots available in our team for the world championships, and at least five, possibly as many as seven, people chasing those slots.

It’s good. It makes it competitive – the 800m is becoming the blue-riband event of women’s athletics because of that strength in depth, not just in Britain but around the world. If it was an event that hardly anyone does, the challenge wouldn’t be the same.

My next competition will be at the Loughborough International on Sunday 19 May, where I plan to run an 800m and a 4x400m relay leg. Provided, that is, I get over the chest infection I’ve had recently, which caused me to pull out halfway through my race last weekend. This has taught me never to start a race unless 100 per cent healthy.

After Loughborough, I plan to race at the big home meetings this summer such as the Birmingham Grand Prix and some of the Grand Prix events in Europe and nearby, such as Oslo and Rabat in Morocco, but my race schedule has still to be finalised.

Wherever I compete, the main focus over the next two months is to be in the best possible shape for the World Championship Trials in Birmingham, which are on the weekend of my birthday.

The trials are 12-14 July and I was born on the 11th. So it looks like being a quiet birthday this year.