‘My housemate will have no fear racing me on the big stage’
European champion Muir goes head-to-head with fellow Scot Reekie as athletics finally emerges from Covid lockdown
Out beyond the boats moored in the Port de Cap-d’Ail, the Mediterranean glistens in a scene that is quintessentially high summer in Monaco: big yachts, high heels, expensive sunglasses. It is only the prevalence of face masks that suggests anything out of the ordinary.
Laura Muir can observe it all, but only from the safety of her hotel window. Like every athlete competing in tomorrow’s Diamond League meeting, she was tested for Covid-19 before and after arrival here, before being safely ensconced inside the hotel, which has been selected due to its position directly across the street from the stadium.
The restrictions do not stop there: one-way systems in hotel corridors, buffets no longer selfservice and accreditation limited to reduce the inner circle to only those whose presence is vital.
All throwing events have been scrapped to provide space on the infield for athletes to gather pre-race.
Even so, the fact that the meeting is even taking place is still something of a surprise given the recent rise in coronavirus cases in the host principality and neighbouring France, and the international nature of the competitors, who have arrived from around the world.
Fortunately for the British contingent, elite athletes are exempt from the 14-day quarantine announced without notice last night for those returning to Britain from this weekend.
The event marks the start of a long-delayed and much-reduced athletics season, and will take place in front of spectators under government rules allowing mass gatherings of up to 5,000 people in Monaco and France.
“We’re not to come into contact with anyone from outside the bubble,” says Muir, 27, via telephone. She confirms with a laugh that she has only been able to look at, but not touch, the nearby sea.
For elite international athletes such as Muir, the four-time European middle-distance champion, the season has been one of cancellations, postponement and altered plans. Strangely, it also meant one of her main rivals moving into her house.
Muir’s relationship with fellow Scot Jemma Reekie is far from conventional for sportspeople targeting identical goals. For many years, Reekie has been like a younger sister to her more successful training partner, shunted to the back seat in cars and deferring to Muir over bed choices at camps.
Then Reekie, 22, suddenly set British indoor records for the 800 metres, 1500m and mile in February, taking two of Muir’s national-best marks in the process. A month later and coronavirus lockdown meant they were living together as world-class peers in Muir’s Glasgow home to avoid having to train alone.
“When everything kicked off, I said to her that she could move in and I think more or less she did it that evening,” Muir says. “We’ve lived together on camps, often in the same room, for four or five weeks at a time. Luckily I got the guest bedroom sorted at Christmas time. We had our own space if we needed it, but to be honest we didn’t really. We were more or less with each other 24/7 for weeks on end. But it was very easy – we understand each other and get each other very well.”
Any vision of the ruthless competitiveness they share on the track spilling out into home life is quickly rebutted. “We didn’t have any hiccups whatsoever,” Muir says. “It was all plain sailing. We are creepily similar. Even when we’d go to the shops we’d end up thinking of the same meal ideas and wanting to buy the same food. Someone would buy a certain type of yogurt and the other person will have bought the same type of yogurt, too. “Even before lockdown, we’d find ourselves at the same shopping centre, on the same day, buying the same present for the same friend. We’re weird that way. So it was very easy.”
Having both recently become ambassadors for a dog fitness campaign launched by YuMOVE, Muir – a qualified vet – was also able to fuel her love of animals by Reekie bringing her dog, Dolly, with her. Reekie and Dolly have now returned to their own home, but the human pair are back sharing a room in Monaco ahead of a fascinating 1,000m clash that features Olympic 1500m champion Faith Kipyegon stepping down in distance, and world 800m champion Halimah Nakaayi stepping up.
With no major event to aim for this year, the result itself matters little beyond providing an insight into whether training has yielded any improvements. “It’s nice to have a few races with nothing pinned on them,” Muir says, predicting Reekie will “have no fear” now she is competing on the biggest stage. Unlike many athletes, Muir had felt some sense of relief when the Tokyo Olympics were pushed back a year, given what she describes as her “most disrupted winter ever” when an Achilles problem left her unable to run for many weeks. “It was a bittersweet thing,” she says. “It being postponed was pretty disappointing because no matter where you’re at, you still want an Olympics.
“But I probably wasn’t as disappointed as a lot of athletes because I hadn’t run at all over the winter. “It’s been good just to have a nice solid block of training this summer and get stronger. Hopefully it means I can have a strong winter and be in a much better position next year than I would have been had the Olympics been this year.”
‘I’ve been with Jemma more or less 24/7 for weeks on end – we understand each other’