This is Stuart Weir’s salute to Lynsey Sharp upon the announcement of her retirement.

Lynsey Sharp

Aged 33, Lynsey Sharp has announced her retirement. She achieved a lot as a British 800m runner, competing in three World Championships and two Olympics and being national champion three times.  Career highlights include being European Champion in 2012 and Commonwealth silver medallist in her native Scotland in 2014. She reached a World Championship and Olympic final, running her PR in the 2016 Olympic final (1:57.69), and also took a European silver in 2014.

Lynsey Sharp, photo by Getty for UK Athletics

Her achievements are all the more creditable as she was often battling injury and illness.

She had a break from running 2020-22, during which time she had a son (Max).  In 2023, she ran eight times with a best of 2:03.59. After announcing her retirement, she told BBC: “I felt that I wasn’t able to give anything 100% whether that was training, being a mum, being a partner – just life, really.  I felt I was being pulled in different directions, and I wasn’t earning any money doing it.  That puts you in a different position from when you are being paid to do something.  I was literally only doing it for myself. It could not be seen as a career anymore. It made me realize that my priorities had changed.

Lynsey Sharp, photo by Getty for UK Athletics

“At the end of the 2023 summer, I thought I had competed well for my first season back, but in order to get to the next level, it required so much more time, energy and everything than I was willing to give”.

Going back to the big achievements, she once told me: “As a career highlight, I think Glasgow [2014 Commonwealth Games] will be hard to beat.  As I was growing up, I would never have imagined having a major championship like that in Scotland and being able to medal.  Looking back, I still think how amazing it was”. Even that race did not go smoothly as she spent the previous evening in hospital, something she incredibly took in her stride: “The year leading up the Commonwealth Games had been so interrupted it was not really surprising [to be ill] because that was just how the rest of that year had gone.  Nothing had gone to plan.  There had been so many obstacles so it did not faze me; being in hospital was just another thing to overcome”.

Sharp was a controversial choice for London 2012 when having only achieved the B standard, she was preferred to athletes with an A standard. Such has been her progress over the next 4 years that that no one could question her worthiness of the faith shown by the selectors. She reflected with me in 2017 on the improvement in her times over that period: “I had been stuck around the minute mark for two years (2011, 2012), but I knew I had way more than that in me, but it wasn’t quite there yet.  I knew I was ready to make a big jump, but unfortunately, I was injured in 2013, so it took until 2014 for it to happen.  In 2014, I opened with 2:06, and I was like, ‘Am I the same athlete I was before?’ But the more I raced, the better my times, and I got down to 1:58.8 in 2014 and1.57.71 in 2016.  But I still felt I could improve more and had more to give”. 

Sharp was the 2012 European 800 Champion, finishing second in the race but being upgraded a year later when Yelena Arxhakova was disqualified for a drug offense. It is a bittersweet memory: “I don’t look back on that as a highlight of my career, and it really should be.  But if you don’t get that moment on the day, it’s always going to feel that it has a bitter undertone to it”.

Lynsey Sharp, photo by Getty Images for UK Athletics

Sharp was often outspoken about other DSD athletes, commenting, “It was difficult to compete against Caster Semenya and other hyperandrogenic athletes after the rule to suppress testosterone levels was overturned.” She later commented on Twitter: “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Caster. She is someone who I talk to regularly on the circuit…” On another occasion, she spoke about the inclusion of athletes with heightened testosterone meant that there were “two separate races being run.”  In her recent autobiography, Caster Semenya described a post-race situation when she offered her hand to Sharp, who – according to Semenya – refused the handshake.

I saw  Lynsey Sharpe in two Olympics, two Commonwealths, three World Championships, and a European Championship, as well as the Diamond Leagues, GB Champs, etc. I always found her an engaging interviewee. She was one of the first of what has become a long line of elite Scottish middle-distance runners – Muir, Reekie, Kerrr, Wightman, Gourley, etc. With more luck with injuries and illness, she could have won more medals. She will be missed.