Meet Britain's bolt from the blue

From Gladiators and the classical piano to hurdles fame, Sharman can be Britain's star man in 2012
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The Independent Online

There was no Usain Bolt celebration on this occasion, as there had been in Berlin seven days previously, when he memorably wagged his index finger in anticipation of victory in the last 10 metres of his World Championship semi-final. Still, William Sharman was happy enough after his sixth-placed finish in the 110m hurdles at the Weltklasse Golden League meeting on Friday night. "I was in the mix in a world-class field," the Northamptonshire man reflected, leaning against a barrier in the bowels of the Letzigrund Stadion. "I proved last week wasn't a flash in the pan. This is me. I'm here to stay."

That is good news for British athletics, because no member of the 60-strong GB team in Berlin made as marked an impact as the 24-year-old pride of Corby. Sure, Jessica Ennis, Phillips Idowu, Lisa Dobriskey and Jenny Meadows were individual medal winners, but they all arrived in the German capital ranked in the world's top 10.

Sharman, who joins the other homecoming heroes in the Aviva British Grand Prix at Gateshead tomorrow afternoon, nearly didn't make it to Berlin. His name was absent when the British team was announced on 28 July. He was called up as a late addition after recording a lifetime best, 13.44sec, in the LEAP meeting at Loughborough the following day.

No British athlete has quite taken the quantum leap that Sharman proceeded to achieve. Ranked 103rd in the world in the 110m hurdles at the start of 2009, and 31st going into the World Championships, this remarkable young renaissance man – a trained classical pianist, a former timekeeper on the Gladiators television show, a BA in economics, an Msc in banking and finance – reached the final in Berlin and finished fourth in 13.30sec, missing a medal by 0.15sec and gold by 0.16sec. It was truly a bolt from the British red, white and blue – more pronounced even than the sudden emergence of Dean Macey in 1999 or Kelly Sotherton in 2004.

Not that it came as any surprise to Sharman, who has about him the same breath of fresh air that Macey brought to the scene a decade ago. "People are saying that I have come a long way in a short space of time but it doesn't feel like that to me," he said. "It feels as though I've done what I've been expecting to do for some time. It just needed someone – my coach, George Macieuvitch – to bring out my potential. And my potential is still coming out, which is why I'm still very down to earth about the whole experience.

"Who knows how fast I can go? But I know where my improvements are to come from, because I've got the evidence. I've had experts look at my race and I've got a good support team behind me and a very good coach. So next year is looking bright."

It is that, although Sharman's future has yet to be resolved. "I'd kind of written off the European Championships and Commonwealth Games next year," the Belgrave Harrier confided. "With a mortgage to pay and a family to bring up, I'd planned on getting a career job next year. I didn't know what level I'd be able to compete at, whether I'd find enough time to actually train."

Surely now, though, having emerged as a genuine medal hope for the 2012 Olympics, Sharman can expect to become a full-time athlete on the Lottery funding list?

"I don't know that," he said. "Nothing's written down. If I do get offers, then I would reconsider it and give my career another thought. But, in immediate terms, you can only play with the cards you've got in front of you. I have to put plans in place."

It seems inconceivable that the plans of UK Athletics will involve anything other than wholehearted backing for the multi-talented Sharman, who was a 17-year-old high jumper when he was first told he could make it to the top of the track-and-field tree. At that stage he might have followed in the footpedal-marks of his father, David, a professional pianist who also starred as a rugby union player for Northampton. An accomplished cornet player as well as a pianist, William was a member of the BBC Youth Orchestra of the Year.

It was John Anderson who persuaded him to concentrate on his athletic talent. The Scottish coach guided Dave Moorcroft to the 5,000m world record in 1982 and also became known for asking contenders whether they were ready as the whistle-blowing referee on Gladiators, which is how Sharman came to be the official timekeeper on the show last year. "It was nice to be involved in such an awesome event," he said. "It earned me a bit of savings to help me train full-time."

Sharman was born in Lagos in Nigeria but brought up in Corby, the former steel town in Northamptonshire, in a family of high achievers. His elder brother, Richard, is an international bobsleigher. His sister, Sarah, is a dancer, singer and actress.

William topped the British decathlon rankings in 2005 but suffered a shoulder dislocation that ruined his javelin throwing. For the past four years he has concentrated on the 110m hurdles and he trains at Loughborough University under Macieuvitch, a Polish hurdles guru who just happens to be in England because he fell in love with a Leicester woman.

Sharman lives in Nottingham – with his fiancée, Lyna, and their seven-week-old son, Joshua – but still considers himself to be "a Corby lad".

"I get so much support from the people back home there," he said. "My friends were telling me when I was in the final in Berlin there were posters all around town saying, 'William Sharman will be running at 5.15pm on BBC2'. That's remarkable. I couldn't imagine I'd get support like that anywhere else."

Tickets for the Aviva British Grand Prix at Gateshead International Stadium on Monday 31 August are available by phone on 08000 556 056 or online at