On paper, Capital hope Lynsey Sharp has little chance of reaching the Olympic 800 metres final which takes place on Saturday at London 2012.
The 22-year-old Edinburgh AC runner has been drawn in the first of three semi-final heats at Stratford tonight and every single one of her seven opponents has run faster than her.
With only two to qualify automatically from each of the semi-finals and two fastest losers, it means a lot of runners will have to run badly – or Sharp will have to rise to the occasion spectacularly, not only beating her personal best of 2:00.52 but probably having to beat the Scottish record of 1:59 as well.
Judging by her quiet confidence and the magnificently competitive record of the athlete who shocked the pundits and her leading British rivals by winning the UK Trial and then coming second in the European 800m championship, the latter outcome might not be so far-fetched as it seems.
“I’m feeling in great shape – there’s definitely a PB there,” she said after successfully negotiating her way to the semi-final.
Sharp has once again drawn the defending champion Pamela Jelimo of Kenya, who set the pace in yesterday’s first round as befits someone who has run the distance in 1:54.01 and trotted round in 2:00.56. But Sharp, who only required to finish in the first three to qualify (despite an erroneous announcement that it was the first two) had the seeming effrontery to chase after her famous rival to defeat Eleni Filandra of Greece. “I just had to go – that was bad but I didn’t want to finish third,” grinned Sharp, acknowledging that she might have used up more energy than she needed. “Actually I heard the announcer say first two to qualify and that threw me but I checked with one of the officials that it was three.”
“I came to watch a couple of nights ago to get used to the crowd but I don’t think anything can prepare you for it – I had this buzzing in my ear as the crowd was so loud but it was good because it made me forget everything else.”
If yesterday’s crowd was noisy it is nothing to the din that could be expected if Sharp comes from behind with one of her now-characteristic late charges to qualify.
But the quality of tomorrow’s field which also includes Natalia Lupu of Ukraine with a best of 1:58.46, Ekaterina Poistoquova of Russia, best of 1:57.93, Alice Schmidt of the United States, best of 1:58.61 and Rose Mary Almanza of Cuba, best of 1:59.55, is such that Sharp cannot afford to be too far off the pace at the 600m mark as she has been in some of this season’s notable races. and the semis of the World Juniors in 2008.
The 22-year-old Napier University law graduate is definitely a winner as her competitive record shows: she was the AAA under-15 champion as long ago as 2004, reached the semi-finals of the World Youth Games in 2007 and the World Junior semis in 2008 the year she also claimed a bronze at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune, India. She was the UK Under-23 champion in 2011 and the European Under-23 bronze medallist and this year she has stepped up again by taking the UK senior title and the European silver.
“I’ve really grown as an athlete – I want to thank my coach Dave Sunderland who’s prepared me so well.”
Watching keenly on television in Edinburgh will be her father Cameron, who was a silver medallist in the 200 metres in the 1982 European Championship. Lynsey’s mother Carol, a former internationalist and three-times Scottish 800m champion and elder sister Carly, the British Police sprint champion, have both made the journey south to watch her as has Bryan Lewis, head master at Stewart’s Melville school in the Capital, where Carol works.
“He’s been so helpful in allowing me time off to travel with Lynsey to races both at home and abroad,” explained Carol.