THE selection of Lynsey Sharp as our only competitor in the women’s 800 metres at the Olympics has been the big talking point since the team was announced on Tuesday, particularly as international rules meant that if she was chosen, no-one else could be selected with her. Given that situation, I can understand why some people might think it was a tough decision to make – but for me it wasn’t particularly difficult at all.
Lynsey has run into form at exactly the right time, as she proved first by winning the Aviva Trials in Birmingham, and then by winning a silver medal last week at the European Championships in Helsinki. There’s quite a knack to winning medals: it’s not just about going out to run a fast time. And Lynsey has shown she has that knack – as well as that silver in Finland she took bronze in last year’s European Under-23 championships.
I think she needs to become more aggressive or at least assertive in the way she races, but that will come with experience. Her coach Dave Sunderland has done a great job with her so far, and I think we could have a major talent on our hands if she keeps developing in the way she has been doing this season.
Obviously the Olympics will be a major step up for her, given she has not yet got an ‘A’ standard time, but she set a personal best in Helsinki and she could well set another in London. She might just surprise everybody there – the way she surprised some people at the trials, which she went into ranked just fifth.
It was because Lynsey only has a B time that we were unable to select anyone else to join her in the 800m. I feel sorry for Jenny Meadows, who has been an excellent competitor for Great Britain, but she has been struggling with injury and at present it looks unlikely that she will run at Crystal Palace next week in the Aviva London Grand Prix.
We can’t just include people in the team because they have run really well in the past: this is about who is in form now, and that means Lynsey. Ideally we would take both, but unfortunately the rules are as they are.
In that respect, the team is not quite as strong as we would like it to be. Overall, though, I’m convinced that our middle and long-distance team as a whole is much stronger than the one we sent to Beijing four years ago. We’ve got Mo Farah in the men’s 5,000m and 10,000m, as well as Chris Thompson in the latter, and we all know what Mo is capable of.
In the men’s 1,500m I think Andy Baddeley and Ross Murray have a good chance of doing better than we managed last time and are capable of getting to the final. And in the women’s 1,500 I’ve got a lot of confidence in Lisa Dobriskey and Hannah England. In the 3,000m steeplechase Barbara Parker is an experienced competitor, and although the Olympics will be a big ask for Eilish McColgan, let’s just wait and see what happens.
With around 50 athletes out of our team of 71 taking part at Crystal Palace, that meet will be a good window through which to judge the preparedness of our team. For most of our competitors it will be the last event they do before the Olympics – Monaco is later but there are no races there longer than 1,500 – so it will be a good indicator of the form they are in.
In the technical events it would not be a major worry if someone made a mistake, because these things happen: if you clatter into a hurdle, for example, Malcolm Arnold will tell you where you went wrong in minutes. But for everyone else, Crystal Palace has to be about getting things right, because you don’t want to be playing catch-up with the Olympics only weeks away.
Team selection was about getting things right too, and I’m confident we’ve done that. This team is as good as we’ve got right now, they’re in great shape, and we’ve got to be happy with that.
• Ian Stewart is UK Athletics’ head of endurance. Back the team and watch the world’s best athletes in action at the Aviva London Grand Prix, live on BBC2 from 6pm on Friday 13 July and BBC1 from 2pm on Saturday 14 July. For more information visit www.uka.org.uk/aviva-series. #backtheteam