THE VIEW FROM TABLE 9: After nearly 40 years reporting sport from around the world for Glasgow’s Herald newspaper, this year DOUG GILLON was able to work at a Commonwealth Games in his home city. And what tales it produced, as he reflects on his visit to the 2014 SJA British Sports Awards
It was a privilege to sit with Commonwealth and European 800 metres silver medallist Lynsey Sharp and her parents at the SJA British Sports Awards last week.
Their daughter’s presence at the celebrations, sponsored by The National Lottery and honouring the great and the good of British sport, also demonstrated to Cameron and Carol the regard in which we sports journalists hold Lynsey. For Cameron, it was some compensation for having missed out on his daughter’s inspirational performance before a home crowd at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Lynsey Sharp’s silver medal behind the Kenyan world champion, Eunice Sum, was one of the dramatic stories of the Glasgow Games, for it came just a few hours after the Scotswoman had been on hands and knees, vomiting. By three o’clock in the morning of her final, team doctors saw that Sharp was put on a drip to treat dehydration. She would not get to sleep until after 5.30am.
“It looked most unlikely that I would be able to run, but I was determined to try,” she said. Even before the opening round of the competition, Sharp knew she was in trouble. “I had one spoonful of porridge and could not face it,” she said, though she said nothing to anyone in an attempt to convince herself she was well enough to race.
Both parents feared for her health, and Cameron was adamant she should not run, fearing a replay of family history. Cameron Sharp had been one of the British sprinting team of the late 1970s and early 1980s, a contemporary of Olympic 100 metres gold medallist Allan Wells.
“At the European Cup final in 1983, at Crystal Palace, I had diarrhoea, felt awful, and didn’t want to run, but I allowed myself to be persuaded to do the opening leg of the sprint relay,” he said. “I ran badly, and the press slated me. To this day, I’m still angry that I competed. Knowing how sick Lynsey was, I feared the worst. I thought she would get hammered as well.
“I went to the first two rounds, but just could not bring myself to go to that final.”
So instead of going with his dad, Lynsey’s grandfather, to spectate at Hampden with the rest of the family, Cameron remained at home in Edinburgh, watching the final on television.
Cameron had just turned 20 when he partnered David Jenkins, Wells and Drew McMaster to gold in the 4 x 100 metres relay at the 1978 Commonwalth Games in Edmonton, breaking the British record. Their time in Canada remains the Scottish record. Sharp took three Commonwealth bronzes in 1982 and a fourth in 1986. He was European championship silver medallist at 200m in 1982 (missing gold by one hundredth of a second) and was a world and Olympic semi-finallist.
Lynsey, now 24 and with a law degree, certainly won the genetic Lottery, for her mother Carol was Scottish 800m champion, and a Commonwealth internationalist in her own right. She was still winning internationally for Scotland at the age of 40.
Lynsey also inherited her parents fighting qualities. She was just a year old when her dad was left seriously physically and mentally impaired after a traffic accident in 1991. He required brain surgery and was in a coma for several days. When he regained consciousness, Carol and daughters Carly and Lynsey were there. Cameron asked who the younger girl was. He did not even know the toddler playing on the floor was his second daughter.
As Cameron says of his daughter’s silver medals this year: “I am incredibly proud of her. She is a fighter. It’s an old Sharp ethic.”
Lynsey agrees. “What happened, and how dad responded, has made me the person I am,” Lynsey says. “It’s made me strong. My mum and dad are both so strong. Mum’s fought for my dad. My dad has literally fought for his life.”
It was Carol’s persistence which secured a medical negligence settlement, and Cameron’s future well-being and security.
As the conversation over our SJA lunch continued last week, doping was a sub-text at our table, inevitably given renewed allegations about Russia. Lynsey won the 2012 European 800 metres gold in the doping laboratory, when Yelena Arzhakova was identified as a cheat. Consequently, having been denied her moment of glory on the day of her European final, Sharp was eventually presented with her gold medal by her own father at an international in Glasgow.
With such attendant baggage, little wonder our Connaught Rooms table was awash with emotions.
These flowed elsewhere in the room, too, as we hailed heroes – not an overworked description here – of the Invictus Games with their irreverent, dark, if politically incorrect humour. All of this was presented in polished and professional style by the day’s hosts: well done, Jim Rosenthal and Sybil Ruscoe.
Honoured elsewhere for the inspiration she has been, Lynsey was coy when asked by Sybil about the impact she has made.More will be made of her story from the past year in a BBC2 Scotland television documentary being broadcast on December 22 (at 10pm). It promises to be as impactful and heart-warming as Marvellous, the TV play being aired on Christmas Day and which was deservedly honoured last week by the SJA chairman, David Walker.
The SJA Awards lunch reaffirmed the value of what sport offers society, of the outstanding, dramatic stories it delivers. We saw a once painfully shy Kelly Holmes, now an assured, confident woman who personally has mastered the art of what sport does across the spectrum: it transforms lives.
And as more than one of the gracious recipients, including Sir Chris Hoy, noted during the presentations, telling those stories and capyuring their images is an important role performed by sports journalists. With due deference to former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan, who was another Ruscoe interviewee, our trade is rather more than the ability to drink a bit.
- How McIlroy, Pavey and the England women rugby team won the 2014 SJA British Sports Awards
- 1949-2014: Click here for the past winners of the SJA British Sports Awards
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UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
Mon Mar 23: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, sponsored by BT Sport, at the Grand Connaught Rooms. Entry forms now available here
Mon Sep 14: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill Golf Club