The Herald on Sunday - - SPORT - BY STE­WART FISHER

LAURA Muir pro­duced her usual sig­na­ture per­for­mance to bring the ba­ton home first in Scot­land’s New Year mixed re­lay crosscoun­try race for a fifth suc­ces­sive year – then did a marathon ses­sion with the hun­dreds of au­to­graph hun­ters who waited pa­tiently for her af­ter­wards.

The 25-year-old’s an­chor leg in yes­ter­day’s Sim­ply­health Great Stir­ling X Coun­try was a glo­ri­fied lap of hon­our. By the time the Euro­pean out­door gold medal­list picked up the ba­ton, Great Bri­tain al­ready had a com­mand­ing lead. That was down to the ster­ling work of the re­main­der of her GB team, Scot­land’s Jamie Wil­liamson and Eng­land’s Phil Se­se­mann and Alex Bell, and the fact US se­cond-leg run­ner Danielle Shana­han took a wrong turn on the course.

Hav­ing out run an os­trich on a warm-weather train­ing camp in South Africa prior to Christ­mas, the clos­est she had to a race yes­ter­day was a young girl en­thu­si­as­ti­cally sprint­ing along­side her for 20 me­tres or so. She and Bell recorded iden­ti­cal times of 4.38 for the 1500m stints of a course which in­cluded a lengthy up­hill stretch on the first fair­way of Stir­ling Golf Club, with Wil­liamson and Se­se­mann both timed at 4.10.

A strong Euro­pean team mainly com­posed of Spa­niards fresh from claim­ing the Euro­pean Cross Coun­try ti­tle in Til­burg in De­cem­ber fin­ished se­cond, nine sec­onds back, with Scot­land’s Un­der-20 team pip­ping Scot­land’s se­nior team, mainly on the strength of a storm­ing se­cond leg by Erin Wal­lace, the promis­ing teenage ath­lete/triath­lete who has also re­cently joined Andy Young’s train­ing group.

“I was aware on the in­ter­com,” said Muir of the un­for­tu­nate wrong turn taken by Team USA which in­flu­enced this race. “I could tell some­thing was go­ing on, but thank­fully it wasn’t a GB run­ner. When I saw they were quite a bit far ahead, it meant I could coast it or take it a bit eas­ier over the first half and then be strong to the fin­ish. It was just a mat­ter of judg­ing it and be­ing strong to the end.”

Muir has now won four times in this event since it went to this cur­rent for­mat – three times over its old course at Holy­rood Park in Ed­in­burgh, and once in the colours of Scot­land. And as she re­minded us, even in 2015, when her Scot­land team ul­ti­mately fin­ished third, “I’ve come through the line first ev­ery time”. She ap­pre­ci­ated the sup­port, par­tic­u­larly those mak­ing the jour­ney from her old school at Kin­ross.

“I take it in more [the crowd shouts] than I would on the track be­cause the crowd is so close and they’re shout­ing re­ally loudly, about my school, about home, from Glas­gow,” she said. “And it’s nice to have lit­tle kids run­ning along­side you too. But I would feel a bit of a numpty if I lost it be­cause I started do­ing some­thing. I am al­ways very re­spect­ful to the rest of the field. I don’t cel­e­brate un­til I pass the fin­ish­ing line.”

For Wil­liamson, the son of for­mer Scot­tish mid­dle-dis­tance run­ner Gra­ham, there was de­light about de­liv­er­ing the ba­ton over safe and sound af­ter a strong open­ing leg. On his first ap­pear­ance in a GB vest in Til­burg, a fine open­ing leg was spoiled by an un­timely slip on a sod­den down­hill sec­tion of the course as GB ul­ti­mately fin­ished fourth.

“That made up for Til­burg,” said Wil­liamson, who was raised in Ger­many. “I was re­ally dis­ap­pointed with the fall at the Eu­ros but we all had strong legs and then I knew Laura would take it for us at the end. Two GB vets in suc­ces­sion is re­ally good. I just want to keep it go­ing in the sum­mer, maybe with the Euro­pean Un­der-23s.”

Muir is on a flight back to South Africa to­day, for an­other stint of warm-weather train­ing. By the time she re­turns for the tri­als at Birm­ing­ham in mid-Fe­bru­ary, ex­cite­ment will be build­ing nicely ahead of the Euro­pean In­doors in March.

“Euro­pean In­doors is huge,” said Muir. “The crowd re­ac­tion there was fan­tas­tic so you can imag­ine what it’s go­ing to be like at the Emi­rates Arena. I know I’m in good form. It’s a mat­ter of main­tain­ing and im­prov­ing it. I will con­tinue to work hard be­cause if you ease off, you won’t get any faster.”

Laura Muir brings the ba­ton home for Great Bri­tain with Stir­ling Cas­tle in the back­ground

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