Eilidh Child plays her golden card in 400m hurdles

IT was not quite Hampden revisited – not for Eilidh Child, at any rate. After crossing the finish line in the Letzigrund Stadium yesterday, there was no blast of the Hibee Reid twins coming over the public address system.
Eilidh Child wins the women's 400m hurdles in Zurich. Picture: GettyEilidh Child wins the women's 400m hurdles in Zurich. Picture: Getty
Eilidh Child wins the women's 400m hurdles in Zurich. Picture: Getty

That much was probably a blessed relief for the die-hard Hearts fan, but not as much as the relief at the chink of daylight that remained between the Perth woman and the rest of the field in the European Championship 400m hurdles final.

On home ground at the Commonwealth Games, Child had been more than happy with the silver medal she claimed behind world number one Kaliese Spencer. This time the pride of Pitreavie AAC could savour the joy of finishing in the gold medal ­position. But only just.

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Seventy minutes earlier, Lynsey Sharp had been caught and passed 80m from the line after a bold bid to retain her 800m title, the ­Edinburgh AC athlete finishing with the consolation of a silver to match the one she had claimed at Glasgow 2014 and a brilliant Scottish record. Child had a clear lead at the tenth and final hurdle but had to grit her teeth to hold off the fast finishing Anna ­Titimets and Irina Davydova

The one-time Scottish schools’ swimming champion crossed the line in 54.48sec. The Ukrainian Titimets was 0.08sec behind.

There was no Proclaimers anthem booming around the hallowed Swiss track and field arena but it was worth travelling (if not walking) the 500 miles twice over that it takes to get from Hampden to the Letzigrund. It was a rare Caledonian athletics success to savour.

Child is only the third Scotswoman to win a European outdoor title.

The 27-year-old – whose sister, Catriona, launches a second novel later this month – enters the 
record books alongside Yvonne Murray, who struck 3,000m gold in Split in 1990 and Sharp, whose 800m gold from the 2012 championships in Helsinki came after the Russian runner Yelena Arzhakova was retrospectively stripped of the prize when “abnormalities” were discovered in her biological passport.

“That was a relief,” Child confessed, reflecting on the closeness of the call. “I came off that tenth hurdle and knew I was leading and just tried to get to the line as quick as possible.

“My legs were dying and all of a sudden I was about five metres out and everybody came alongside me. I didn’t know when I crossed the line that I had held on. I’m just absolutely delighted that I won.

“I did feel the pressure out there. There were quite a few nerves on the start line and the blue number [denoting a No 1 ranking] didn’t help. It just advertises the fact that you should be the favourite.

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“I’m just glad I managed to calm myself down and that I did what I had to.”

Was European gold 1,000 miles away from home (well, 992 away from Hampden) any sweeter than Commonwealth silver in Glasgow, though, Child was asked?

“It’s not that much different,” she replied. “Obviously, the Commonwealths meant a lot because it was at home, but to actually have my own title now and be European champion is the best feeling ever.”

The feeling might get better still for Child, with the chance to go for another medal in the 4 x 400m relay final today, subject to recovery. Her victory took the haul of British gold to seven, just two shy of the record haul with one day still to go.

Sharp could not have done much more to secure what would have been an eighth British gold.

The law graduate shot to the front and reached the bell in a brisk 58.26sec. Maryna Arzamasova tried to draw alongside down the back straight but Sharp resisted and kicked on with 200m to go. Some 80m out, the Belarussian went past and Sharp was unable to respond.

Arzamasova claimed the gold in 1min 58.15 sec. The consolation for Sharp was not just the silver medal but her time of 1:58.80 – a substantial improvement on the 1:59.67 she clocked in Lausanne last month and also a Scottish record, eclipsing the 1:59.02 set by Susan Scott at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006.

Not that the 24-year-old was in the mood for consolation when she made it to the mixed zone press interview area in the bowels of the stadium – not initially, at any rate. Sharp spotted her mother, Carol Lightfoot, and went straight up to her, bowed her head down next to the barrier and said: “Gutted.”

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After a hug and a few tears, she pondered the reasoning for having gone out so hard, leaving nothing in the tank for the home straight.

“Yeah, it was slightly suicidal,” Sharp said. “Everyone said I looked amazing in the semi-final so I went out and did exactly what I did then. I was two seconds faster, which is why I paid for it in the home straight. Steve Cram was a bit critical of me two years ago, saying that I sit at the back and finish hard, and that was playing on my mind.

“That’s the most uncomfortable way to run a race – running scared the whole way. I was waiting for someone to come. It’s the most ­horrible feeling.

“I’m more happy with the time than the position. I only came here to win but to have a Scottish record is amazing.”