Lynsey Sharp today claimed she’s more ready than ever to blunt the challenge of her rivals and put up a fight for an 800 metres medal in Rio.
The Capital star, 26, starts off her Olympic bid in today’s heats with gold looking a mission improbable with the form of controversial South African inter-sex star Caster Semenya set to provide one of the talking points of these Games.
But Sharp has been quicker than ever this summer following extended stints with her coach Terrence Mahon at his base on Boston and additional racing on the Diamond League circuit that’s allowed her to make practice perfect as she headed towards this week.
“Getting another winter’s training in helps,” the 2012 European champion said. “I’m usually injured in the winter or something. But I got a full winter in this year and last year and I’ve got more running in my legs and been consolidating. I’m not usually doing more mileage in a week but I’m able to do more volume in sessions.
“I’ve probably spent more time with Terrence which has helped and we’ve introduced a few more plyometric things and been able to do things I perhaps wasn’t able to do before.
“It’s just little things, not one massive change, like maturing as an athlete.”
Others who have seen the Edinburgh AC prospect grow in stature since her junior days at Meadowbank Stadium have seen the evolution, through the injuries that blighted her late teens to her continental title to her second Olympic appearance, four years after her first.
“You have to have a driven focus where you’re not as aware of your surroundings and your competitors,” said scottishathletics director of coaching Rodger Harkins, who guided Lee McConnell to world and European medals. “There’s a fine line where you’re focusing on what you’re doing. If it goes wrong, and they do things you’ve not seen, if it’s a tactical race, that can be bad. But it’s about having a confidence and an acute awareness of what you’re doing.
“You saw Dame Kelly Holmes go and train with Maria Mutola who was considered the best 800m runner in the world. She went out and saw she wasn’t indestructible and thought: ‘I can take her’. So when she got to the Olympics, she was aware of what she was capable of doing. You need to challenge yourself and not be afraid to take on the best in the world – and have an immense self-belief.”
Sharp, a semi-finalist at London 2012, has had well wishes from Holmes ahead of her debut here as well as from others at home.
Since Glasgow 2014 and her storied recovery from illness to take Commonwealth silver, she had acquired a certain celebrity that has brought extra scrutiny – with more armchair pundits who will be staying up watching her Olympic appearances and giving their own verdicts.
“But there are so many other good things that come of it, particularly in Scotland,” she said. “You look at how many athletes have come through since Glasgow and how many Scots are on the team.
“That in itself shows the effect that Glasgow had – people who saw me and Eilidh Doyle and realised they would do that too and realistically make this team. Hopefully younger people here will look at us all and want to be at the next one.”
Meanwhile, Chris O’Hare finished fourth in the 1500m heats to progress to tomorrow’s semi-finals, clocking 3:39.26.
However, there were few people in the crowd to watch and Rio organisers should be ashamed at the appalling attendances in what prides itself as the Olympics showpiece sport.
Four years ago in London, every morning session was sold-out, and seasoned Games observers can’t recall a track and field event that has so spectacularly failed to capture the imagination. Not that it particularly bothered O’Hare.
“There’s nobody in the stands, it’s pretty easy to forget you are at an Olympics out there,” he joked.“It doesn’t bother me, whether it’s packed or totally dead, it’s not a problem. It’s like being at a training session at Meadowbank, just absolutely roasting and not windy.”
O’Hare’s preparations have not all gone according to plan, with a knee injury keeping him off the track for ten days before his last appearance, at the Emsley Carr Mile at the Anniversary Games in London.
“It was frustrating but the time off worked and since then we’ve really smashed the training,” he insisted.
“You are going to get niggles and problems in any season, I could have done without it being so close to the Olympics.
“My knee is okay, it’s good enough and that’s all that matters. I’ve got 36 hours to rest and I’ll have to really go for it.”