Victory again for Britain’s queen of middle distance
The video looks almost as though it is stuck on a loop. Laura Muir, running on her own, as she has done for more than half the race, makes her way down the empty back straight at Glasgow’s Emirates Arena – where she is greeted by silence. Snatches of conversations can be heard echoing around the cavernous space amid the hush.
Slowly, as she rounds the top bend, the scene alters, with the few hundred spectators who had pitched up on the off-chance of witnessing greatness on the most unlikely of stages rising to their feet from their vantage point on the home straight in a cacophony of encouragement.
“Come on, Laura,” roar the voices, clapping and cheering their local girl on her quest as she passes the dozen bodies belonging to those who began the race as her rivals but are now sprawled over the finish line after completing their own 3,000m mission. Muir, alone, has another two kilometres to run.
Then she moves off again, back to the other side of the stadium and the quiet solitude of her relentless solo grind. Loud and then calm. Loud and then calm.
Ordinarily, the early January Glasgow Athletics Association Miler Meet would pass without making any impression whatsoever on the global circuit. In truth, it barely even resonates on the national stage.
But Muir’s achievements this week changed all that, single-handedly elevating a typically low-key midweek indoor event from the humdrum to the historic.
The statistics alone are tremendously impressive. Muir, 23, running only the second 5,000m race of her career, smashed Liz McColgan’s 25-year-old British indoor record by a remarkable 14 seconds.
Her time of 14min 49.12sec places her second on the European all-time list and ninth in the world. Not bad for someone whose bread-and-butter distance is 1500m – less than half what she covered in her home town on Wednesday night.
“It was a pretty good start,” she says, with flabbergasting understatement. “I was pretty pleased to get the cobwebs blown away and put out a good time. We knew a fast time was on the cards – it was just a matter of doing it on the day and I managed to pull it off.”
It is another milestone in a career that seems to be going only in one direction. If you did not know Muir’s name already, all indicators suggest you will by the end of this summer.
It was July 22 last year at London’s Olympic Stadium that the tiny, meek figure – described as a “wee sparra” by one Scottish newspaper this week – warned her rivals not to underestimate her slight appearance when she broke Dame Kelly Holmes’s British 1500m record in thrilling fashion.
Amazingly, she bettered that time again a month later with a phenomenal 3min 55.22sec run in Paris to finish the year as the fastest 1500m runner in the world. The only thing that eluded her was an Olympic medal.
Paying the price for her ambition in the 1500m final in Rio, Muir attempted to keep pace with Faith Kipyegon and Genzebe Dibaba, the eventual gold and silver medallists, only for her muscles to be hit by a lactic bullet in the closing stages. She had followed coach Andy Young’s instructions to a tee, but the quick mid-race pace had caught both of them by surprise.
“I went for it,” she said, devastated in the immediate aftermath of that race in Brazil. “I went for gold. But I don’t have any regrets.”
Traipsing across the muddy hills of Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park is not everyone’s idea of a pleasant Saturday lunchtime, but Muir’s appearance at the Great Edinburgh Cross Country yesterday was nothing new for someone who has been a regular at the event for almost a decade.
Firmly of the opinion that taking on the difficult terrain “makes you that bit tougher”, the fifth-year University of Glasgow veterinary student was a class apart on the final leg of the 4x1km mixed relay, blitzing her international rivals to anchor Britain’s team to victory and maintain her perfect start to what she hopes will be a life-changing year.
In reality the muddy triumph was little more than a bit of fun – a training exercise and a chance to compete in front of her home fans before the serious business begins. This is the year she wants to turn potential into medals.
Around this time last year a message dated January 2013 resurfaced. In it, Young had happily informed a friend that he had “the next Paula Radcliffe/ Kelly Holmes” on his hands.
In fact, he tells The Sunday Telegraph, he suspected Muir might have a touch of greatness when he started coaching her in 2011. “She rocked up to university as a club runner and I’d been working with her for a couple of weeks when I realised, ‘Wow, this is something special,’” he says.
“It became apparent that she had the X-factor right from the start. I’m not saying I could predict 3min 55sec [for 1500m]. But pretty quickly we were putting together a long-term plan realising she was pretty good.”
She has already proven she can excel at 1500m, and her early-season exploits have seemingly convinced Muir that she is more than capable of doubling up over two distances at major championships in the coming months and years.
First comes a tilt at European Indoor 1500m and 3,000m titles in March, before she attempts a 1500m/5,000m double at the World Championships in London this summer. The aim at both is a simple one: medals.
“I’d always said that anything before 2017 would be bonus territory,” explains Young. “Before 2012 she had only been in a few club races up in Scotland and wasn’t even winning them. She had no racing experience so we had to be patient and let her learn the art of racing.
“But now that we’re in 2017 it’s the first time that we have the expectation for her to be in the mix. Not necessarily winning gold medals, but in the mix and chasing medals.”
“Friends say that when they watch me as I’m about to race they always go: ‘Where’s Laura?’ ” she said this week. “Because I’m wee and have got this peely-wally Scottish skin I think I must just blend right into the track.” She is not going to be easy to miss for much longer.
‘I’d been working with her a couple of weeks when I realised, wow, this is something special’
Fast work: Laura Muir crosses the line at the end of her record run in Glasgow