The 26-year-old went in the first of eight heats yesterday and secured the perfect start with a win to secure automatic qualification to the semi-finals. Romania’s Florina Pierdevara took the race out to lead after one lap but Sharp bided her time perfectly to hit the front at 600m and held off Serbia’s Amela Terzic to win in 2:00:03 minutes.
Sharp’s heat was one of the slowest – conserving energy was important on the day with track temperature reaching 36 degrees Celsius. And Sharp described the result as pleasing although it tested her mentally perhaps more than physically.
“It was a good run, I was just trying to stay out of trouble and get a clear run in,” she said.
“You can’t do anything unless you make the final so it was good to finally get out there. It was nice to get out there in the rounds but it is also nerve-wracking because there girls I have not really run against before and it is a bit of unfamiliar territory.”
Edinburgh’s Sharp knew coming into these Games that she would have her work cut out to challenge for a podium finish. The women’s 800m has been dominated by two athletes – South Africa’s Caster Semenya, who had to undergo gender testing before being cleared to compete in Rio, and Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba. A bronze medal stands as a more realistic yet still incredibly challenging goal for Sharp, who insists setting a new British record – it currently stands at 1:56.21minutes, set by Dame Kelly Holmes in 1995 – would also serve as a great achievement in Rio.
“The British record is probably the thing that I would like to get most. I think that’s 1:56.2,” she added. “Everyone can see it’s two separate races so there’s nothing I can do. There’s nothing anyone else can do. It’s out of our control really so you just have to focus on your own race.”
Semenya won her heat in 1:59.31. The 25-year-old has been cleared to run as a woman by a Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling, but the controversy surrounding her eligibility remains.
CAS, in a case brought by Indian sprinter Dutee Chand last July, suspended the rules of athletics’ world governing body the IAAF on ‘hyperandrogenism’, which causes unnaturally high levels of testosterone, meaning athletes on testosterone-suppressing medication, like Semenya, could come off it.
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