Lynsey Sharp stays strong for 800m title defence

Lynsey Sharp poses as she attends a Great Britain and Northern Ireland team press conference. Picture: PA
Lynsey Sharp poses as she attends a Great Britain and Northern Ireland team press conference. Picture: PA
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LYNSEY Sharp was yesterday handed a special golden number to signify her status as a reigning European champion. The special treatment, she knows, ends there as she prepares to begin the defence of her 800 metres title in Zurich this morning.

The Commonwealth silver medallist, 24, returns to action in the heats less than two weeks after the emotion-laden display at Hampden that saw her overcome illness to deliver a performance to remember. Silver was claimed but it was the motivational inscription on a hand which had, just hours before, been hooked up to a drip that has entered into legend.

‘Get out strong, commit,’ it read. That, the law graduate from Edinburgh declares, has sparked a lingering reaction. “That was totally a personal thing. I didn’t think it would have any effect on anyone else. It was just to help me focus on the start line. But the effect’s just been crazy.

“I’ve had people Tweeting me saying they’ve used similar things for challenges they’re doing for charity, saying my performance has inspired them and showed determination. That’s what I really wanted to do, go out and give it my all. I talked about seeing Emily Dudgeon race the day before and also Guy Learmonth. They gave such a gutsy performance, which is what I wanted to do.”

With an equally strong field in Switzerland, it will take another formidable showing from the Scot, who lies fourth in the continental rankings. Victory here would surely surpass two years ago when she was denied the chance to stand atop the podium in Helsinki when Russia’s Yelena Arzhakova initially claimed gold before being exposed as a drugs cheat and stripped of her crown.

However, Sharp’s huge improvements this summer in dipping beneath the two-minute barrier for the first time, suggest she should have no fears.

“I’m in a totally different frame of mind from 2012,” she maintains. “That was before London and I had a point to prove with Olympic selection. Here, I’ve already had a great season, more than I could have expected with all the problems I’ve had. So I’m going in a lot more positively and confidently. I just want to enjoy it.”

Her collection is already gold-tinted. Eilidh Child has yet to scale such absolute heights. However, she may never have a better opportunity to acquire a major title than in Switzerland with the UK champion arriving as the favourite in the 400 metres hurdles following her own silver lining from Glasgow.

The expectation is victory. Any hype generated could not possibility match the noise which surrounded the 27-year-old amid the Commonwealth circus. “All eyes were on me,” she affirms. “Here, although I’m ranked number one, I don’t feel the same. And there were more of us clustered together, whereas in Glasgow it was Kaliese Spencer ahead of me and then others behind.

“In Zurich, there’s five or six of us running around 55 seconds so it will be much more close. I just need to go in and execute the right race and it will be interesting to see what happens.”

A flawless performance may be required. Akin to her triumphant outing at Hampden in last month’s Diamond League.

“It was my best run ever, especially the last three hurdles which I nailed,” she states. “If I could do that at the Europeans, I’d be pretty happy.”

Her former fellow pupil in Kinross, Laura Muir, will have to undertake a self-appraisal of her own after an ignominious exit from the heats of the 1,500 metres in yesterday’s opening session in Zurich. Ranked third and backed for a medal, the 21-year-old ran herself into trouble amid a jostling pack and was left behind as the leaders broke on the home straight, finishing sixth in a time almost 15 seconds slower than her season’s best.

It mirrored her disappointments at the Commonwealths and the world indoor championships earlier this year and the vet student conceded the blame was her own. “I just ended up running in lane two for the majority of the lap. I almost fell as well a couple of times, trying to get past people. It was just a messy race.”

Fellow Britons Laura Weightman and Hannah England advanced into Friday’s final.

Elsewhere, GB&NI team captain Goldie Sayers progressed into the javelin final with an initial throw of 58.07m, while Asha Philip, Ashleigh Nelson and Desiree Henry breezed comfortably into today’s 100m semi-finals.