Glasgow 2014: Sharp ready for the challenge

Lynsey Sharp goes in the 800m
Lynsey Sharp goes in the 800m
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The Commonwealth Games have long held a special place in the sporting affections of Scots and, though purists may claim European and other global events carry more weight, a gold medal at Glasgow 2014 in track and field would surely guarantee a place in the nation’s Hall of Fame.

So who will follow the likes of Lachie Stewart, 10,000m hero at Meadowbank in 1970, or the two Rosemarys – Stirling and Payne – respective winners of the 800 metres and discus, or 16 years later Liz Nuttall (nee Lynch) first winner of the women’s 10,000 metres?

More realistically, can Scotland surpass the six medals won in athletics the last time we hosted the Games at Meadowbank in 1986 when the 20th Games take place at Hampden Park beginning on Sunday?

Though the ill-fated 1986 Games lost a third of the expected competitors due to the anti-Apartheid boycott, Scotland men’s team manager at the time, the late John Brown noted: “In athletics very few potential medallists did not take part. The depleted field, however, meant that a number of our athletes who would have benefited from a preliminary round were thrown into semi-finals or finals of events.”

This time the reverse appears true with more than the expected number of competitors coming and the latest revision of the timetable, adding an extra round in both women’s 400m hurdles and 800m, could actually benefit two leading Scots. Both Eilidh Child (Pitreavie) and Lynsey Sharp (Edinburgh AC) believe a cut-throat semi-final with perhaps only two going through offers too much risk of a calamity.

“The first round will give me a chance to get settled,” said Sharp (24), a Napier University law graduate who set a Scottish Native record of 2:00.08 last Saturday in the Diamond League at Hampden.

She admits: “I’d be happy if it rains.” (mainly because of the unsettling effect it may have on some opponents not so used to the Scottish weather).

“It’s such a strong event,” she adds, conceding that her hopes of also helping the Scottish 4x400m relay squad may have been dashed by another quirk of the timetable which has the heats on the same day as the 800m final.

Sharp believes she is a totally different athlete since she won the European title in Helsinki then went out in the London 2012 Olympic semi-final.

“I’m much more professional and I was annoyed at Hampden as I got myself in a bad position,” said Sharp, revealing that Mahon had been happy that she was disappointed with her run, even though it was her second fastest ever.

While poster girl Child, a hurdles silver medallist in Delhi 2010 and currently ranked second in the Commonwealth, inevitably carries a heavy burden of expectation, Sharp has felt relatively pressure-free: “It was kind of a blessing being injured as I avoided the hype,” she explains.

Sharp rates the Kenyans Eunice Sum and Janeth Jepkosgei as her biggest threats along with all three English runners, Jess Judd, Jenny Meadows and Marilyn Okoro, all of whom have gone under two minutes, Judd twice this season.

The 800 metres of course could offer Scotland at least a double option through Sharp and overshadowed club-mate Emily Dudgeon, even if the other choice, Laura Muir (Dundee Hawkhill), may have to withdraw if she has not recovered sufficiently from her main target, the 1500 metres.

Should the Scottish record-holder reach the 1500m final on the evening of Tuesday July 29 as planned, she would then face the first round of the 800 metres the following morning, but Milnathort’s Muir, a definite medal chance in the longer race, insists she will cross that bridge when she has to.

Following the dramatic 1500 metres at the Hampden Grand Prix, the men’s predictions may have been revised but it is still a tough ask for the Scottish trio of new native record-holder Chris O’Hare and his EAC clubmate Jake Wightman, plus Dave Bishop to reach the final, let alone pick up a medal.

But it will not be for want of effort by the Capital pair, while Bishop has recently set a new best for 800 metres.

Lasswade’s Guy Learmonth is the only male 800m rep and if he can find his training form after suffering from a nasty virus last month he could yet surprise and reach the final.

Clubmate Greg Louden should be one of the 4x400 metres squad on recent form, while Edinburgh-based Jamie Bowie will be on the anchor leg with a native record at least on the cards.

Perhaps the strongest medal favourite among the Scottish track athletes will be Edinburgh’s 2012 Paralympic silver medallist Libby Clegg, who goes in the T12 100m on Monday July 28, the day after the women’s marathon from which sadly Capital hope Freya Ross had to withdraw last month through injury.