Lynsey Sharp and Lee McConnell enjoy rare indoor home outing

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THERE were no sheep on the track, she did not have to jostle for space with scores of children, and the power stayed on throughout.

All in all, Saturday’s British Athletics International Match took place in very different conditions from the ones which Lynsey Sharp has become accustomed to this month, much of which she has spent in altitude training in Kenya.

Running in a team competition which pitted Great Britain & Northern Ireland against the United States, Germany, Russia and a Commonwealth Select, Sharp came fourth in the 800m. It was a rare indoor outing for the Edinburgh athlete, who only got back from Kenya, after severe delays, around 36 hours before the meeting.

“It was a bit of a nightmare journey, but I really wanted to compete,” Sharp said. “After you’ve been at altitude, the best time to race is the first 48 hours, so I knew I was going to be tired from travelling, but I wanted to give it a go and see how I reacted.”

At 22, Sharp has already seen a lot of the world, but the conditions in Kenya still came as an eye-opener. “The atmosphere was good and I did really good training, but some of it was hard, like the food and power cuts,” the European silver medallist continued.

“The surfaces to run on are rough, but I came home in one piece and pretty fit so it’s good. I realised I’m spoilt at home.

“It was a really good group that were out there, and I only cried twice. Once running up hills, I had to stop and walk. And once it was raining and I was cold.

“It was bizarre. Tuesday morning was track morning, and in one group there was 50. They stretched from the 200m start for, well, about 200 metres. It was just mental.

There were sheep on the track and people were asking for your shoes, and water, and watches. It was just like a different world.”

Sharp, who has done much of her training on her own in Edinburgh, will split her time between the capital and Loughborough this season after deciding that being part of a group – albeit much smaller than the ones she witnessed in Kenya – will help her progress.

“I’ve moved to the new endurance coach for the UK, Terrence Mahon. He came over to South Africa and brought three girls that he coaches – Morgan Uceny, who made the 1,500 final in London, Anna Pierce who did the steeplechase in Beijing, and his wife [Jen], who does 5 and 10k,” she said.

“After London, I realised what was going to bring me on was having a group to train with. To have girls who are faster than me to train with is hard to get. It was the obvious choice.

“I’m going to be half and half between home and Loughborough. I’ll get to come home a lot at weekends. It’s a choice I’ve got to make. Now was the right time, four years out from Rio.”

Lee McConnell is another athlete who rarely competes indoors, as the tight bends are difficult for someone so tall to negotiate. Competing in the 200m instead of her usual distance of 400, she was given the inside lane, and came last of five. Despite that, McConnell was clearly delighted by the experience of competing in front of a capacity audience.

“I enjoyed giving it a go,” she said. “The crowd were brilliant, really welcoming, so it was really special to get to run here – you don’t get the opportunity to run in your home town in front of a big crowd very often.”

Eilidh Child, like McConnell running for the Commonwealth select, was up against her GB hurdles team-mate Perri Shakes-Drayton in the flat 400. The Londoner got the better of the duel, coming second behind America’s Natasha Hastings. Child, who has just spent several weeks’ warm-weather training in South Africa, was fourth.

Arguably the best home performance of the day came in the men’s high jump, in which Scottish indoor record-holder Allan Smith established a new best with a clearance of 2 metres 23cm. That was just a centimetre more than the mark he set just a couple of weeks ago, but that was in turn seven centimetres superior to his previous best. This early in the season, it was an auspicious outing by the Edinburgh 20-year-old.

For the first time, a quartet of Paralympic events were held in tandem with the five-team international, in which a British team making its first outing since London 2012 took on Russia, the USA, Germany and a Commonwealth select. Stef Reid had the best Scottish result from the four, winning the F44/46 long jump, while the virtually blind Libby Clegg opted to run solo after her guide, Mikael Huggins, strained a hamstring in the warm-up.

“It felt really weird without a guide,” Clegg said. “I felt naked without him. It is completely different, and even though I train on my own he’s vital when I compete. I can’t see the finishing line, so it’s a confidence thing. I don’t know entirely where I am, and he tells me that, or if I need to adapt my technique.”

She came third out of three in the T11/12 80 metres, but simply starting and finishing was an achievement in itself.

Russia and the USA both ended the match on 58 points, with Russia winning by virtue of having more individual victories.