Lynsey Sharp’s selection for London 2012 is incredibly bold by Charles van Commenee and his band of brave selectors
The monumentally brave decision to pick Lynsey Sharp as Britain’s sole competitor in the women’s 800m at the London Olympics is almost on a par with Peter Elliott’s selection ahead of Sebastian Coe for the 1500m in 1988. The Daily Mirror began a “Coe must go” campaign and showed a cartoon of Elliott as a carthorse and Coe as a stallion. The president of the IOC, Juan Antonio Samaranch, even nearly intervened to give the defending champion a wild card entry.
Expect similar scenes in the next few days linked to Sharp’s controversial inclusion, especially in the fiercely loyal regional papers that have covered the careers of Jenny Meadows, Jemma Simpson, Marilyn Okoro and Emma Jackson in the build-up to the Games. All of them have A qualifying standards – from 2011 or 2012 – but have been overlooked in favour of a runner with only a B standard to her name.
Of course Sharp has been in superb recent form – and it is this that has surely persuaded the selectors, led by UKA’s chief coach Charles van Commenee, to name her in the Olympic team. The 21-year-old won the British Olympic Trials in Birmingham last month and then stormed through from nowhere to win a surprise silver medal in the European Championships in Helsinki last week.
Given this, she is set to become one of the most talked about people in Scotland and is undoubtedly the main discussion point following the announcement of an Olympic team that also includes big names like Dwain Chambers, Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah.
Personally, I enjoyed the women’s 800m at the British Olympic Trials more than any event that weekend and I whooped with delight when she produced a miraculous finish to win silver in Helsinki. I would have loved to have picked Sharp for the team. With a mother from Kirkcaldy, I have a huge soft spot for Scotland too. But I admit I would never have been brave enough to make this tough decision.
Charles van Commenee and his team of selectors have the minerals – and then some – because to pick Sharp they had to leave out everyone else because, as the rules state, you can only pick one athlete with a B standard. Normally, athletes with a B standard are only included if the team has no one good enough to have hit the A standard, but in this unique case the selectors have snubbed four A standard candidates and picked the in-form runner with the “mere” B standard instead.
What a story. Only last month Sharp graduated with a 2:1 law degree from Edinburgh Napier University. She is the daughter of former Scottish 800m champion Carol Lightfoot and the 1982 European 200m silver medallist Cameron Sharp, who himself was also an Olympian – running the 100m, 200m and 4x100m in Moscow in 1980.
Since hanging up his own swift spikes, her father also suffered brain damage and was wheelchair bound after a car accident in 1991 – and last week he said he might not be able to travel to the Olympic Stadium if, by some fluke, his daughter was picked. Surely now, somehow, someone has to get him there.
Sharp aside, how will the other snubbed half-milers react? Meadows, who has not raced in 2012 due to an Achilles injury, has made no bones about the fact it is her life’s mission to compete in London 2012 and she pre-empted the selection decision by saying she might consider legal action if she was omitted.
Simpson will also be upset – she was second in the trials, is a former UK champion and has an A standard from 2011. Jackson also has an A standard from this year but ran poorly in the Aviva Trials with a broken rib.
Okoro has even more cause to be annoyed – she has multiple A standards from 2012 but ran one poor race at the Olympic Trials, where she used kamikaze tactics before finishing fifth. With perhaps a taste of things to come, she tweeted “I am quitting” an hour or so before the official announcement by the BOA.
Ultimately, though, neither Meadows, Okoro, Simpson or Jackson had a compelling case and they have failed to prove they are in good form. Sharp, on the other hand, is the athlete of the moment.
The young Scot grasped her opportunity with inspirational performances at the Olympic Trials and European Championships and now has the enviable task of proving the selectors right when she takes to the track under immense pressure at the London Games next month.
She thoroughly deserves her spot. Scotland will salute their new heroine. And I salute the selectors brave enough to give her a chance.