Muir’s magic

Vic­tory again for Bri­tain’s queen of mid­dle dis­tance

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - Ben Bloom ATH­LET­ICS COR­RE­SPON­DENT in Ed­in­burgh

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

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