Athlete Lynsey Sharp gears up for Olympic bid

Lynsey Sharp with Iain Thomson and Pamela Lawson

Lynsey Sharp with Iain Thomson and Pamela Lawson

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LYNSEY Sharp is preparing for the race of her life. It is crunch time for the 21-year-old’s dream of competing for Great Britain at this summer’s Olympics. With just 99 days to go before the curtain is raised on the world’s greatest sporting event, you could certainly forgive a few nerves.

She does, after all, still have to shave three-quarters of a second off her 800 metre personal best to earn a spot in Team GB.

But then the Sharp family doesn’t do nerves. It does winning – against all odds.

Inspiration, as if it were needed, is contained in the photo albums at the family’s New Town home.

Her father, Cameron, famously won gold at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton and reached the semi-finals of the 100m and 200m sprints at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.

Her mother, Carol Lightfoot, is a former Scottish 800m runner and her sister, Carly, 24, is also a successful athlete, having represented Scotland.

And then inspiration comes in a different form. While the family knows well the incredible highs that come with performing at the very top, it has also been forced to contend with devastating personal lows.

When Lynsey was just a baby, her father was involved in a serious car crash, which would change their lives. Confined to a wheelchair, he eventually won a protracted medical negligence legal battle.

It was that struggle which inspired Lynsey to pursue a career in law – she has just handed in her dissertation, and now has just a couple of exams to go. It was what went before which inspired her Olympic dream.

“It is a family thing, but I was never pushed into it,” says former Mary Erskine’s pupil Lynsey. “I was just desperate to go and do it.

“Carly was brilliant at every sport – I would play them too, but I was rubbish.

“My mum sent me to gymnastics at the age of five because she said I was too young to do athletics, but I hated it.

“Eventually she let me go to the track at a club in Meadowbank, which is where I still train.”

She remembers only too well how her father’s accident close to Carlisle in October 1991 “completely changed our whole life”.

A works minibus driven by Mr Sharp crashed into a tree, leaving him seriously injured. It later emerged that doctors at Cumberland Hos- pital failed to treat bleeding in his brain and, after years of delay over damages, East Cumbria Health authority agreed to pay £1.5 million.

“Around the time of the accident, my father was no longer competing and was working as a [leisure services] manager,” says Lynsey.

“Although he had injuries and breaks from the accident, he would have recovered, but because of the hospital there was brain damage.

“But to see how far my dad has come is amazing.

“He was in a coma, he was brain injured, he couldn’t walk – then he was able to use a wheelchair, he was able to walk, he was able to go to the supermarket on his own.

“Even today he still does physio every day.

“You have to be mentally tough – my dad described it as sheer bloody-mindedness.”

The same attitude perhaps which has helped Lynsey juggle the demands of studying law at Napier with her gruelling training schedule.

Olympics or not, she is due to graduate in the summer, which is how, this week, she found herself giving a motivational speech to a group of students in the offices of solicitor Balfour and Manson, which has sponsored her for the past decade.

“One of the reasons I got into law was because of the court case about my father.

“And I’ve seen how important it is to have something in my life that isn’t athletics because it can all be taken away from you so quickly.”

It is the ability to bounce back from setbacks which has set Lynsey on the right path as an athlete.

“It’s not been easy. In 2009, I didn’t race at all because I was injured,” she says.

“But when I was at the Europeans last year, I got a bronze medal in the under-23 championships, and it was quite a big thing to come back.

“That’s when I got my personal best as well. I don’t know how I did it, but somehow I have managed to stay on the right track.

“About 50 per cent of being a good athlete is mental, to go out and train when it’s freezing cold and it’s snowing and it’s the last thing that you want to do.

“In the winter, in the wind and snow, I run through the Innocent Railway tunnel and I hate it because it’s scary and dark.

“But you know if you have a very good session that your are improving.”

Lynsey’s mother, a PE teacher at the Erskine Stewart’s Melville Schools, is a frequent figure at the trackside.

She says: “When Lynsey had that period of injury there was a point at which most people would have walked away from the sport.

“She reminded herself of the situation that her father had found himself in, whereas some people would have buckled and have given in to a number of things.

“It’s a kind of self-survival which I think each member of the family has.”

It was while she was injured that a prominent figure in the world of athletics described Lynsey as a “waste of space” – a comment that found its way back to her.

But it did nothing to stop her determination to succeed.

“I just remember reflecting on it and thinking, ‘I would love to prove him wrong’,” remembers Lynsey.

“Sport can be very political but, really, I don’t know why he said that.

“In the long run, though, I think it helped me.”

As she faces the race of her life to make it to London and then the 2014 Commonwealth Games, she is feeling confident.

“With the Olympics being in London, I’m desperate to make it, and if I qualified it would just be huge.

“All the excitement, the stadium, the kit – you just want to be part of it.”

Given her track record, don’t bet against it.

Every split second counts

Lynsey Sharp’s personal best in the 800 metres is two minutes, 00.65 seconds.

To be in with a chance of a place on the Olympic team for the London Games, Lynsey must achieve a qualifying time of 1:59.90.

But this will not guarantee her a spot as she will also have to compete with rival athletes.

Lynsey, who was named Scottish Athletics’ Athlete of the Year in 2011, has just two months to improve her speed in time for the Olympic trials in June.

Her coach is based in Birmingham and, between sessions, she trains with her mum, Carol.

Superstitious Lynsey always wears a specific pair of socks for her races.