After harsh lessons in 2014 in the art of stepping up when it counts, Laura Muir has put herself under orders to avoid further let-downs and seize her first major championship medal at the European Indoors in Prague.
The 21-year-old from Perthshire starts her quest in this afternoon’s heats of the 3,000 metres with her second place in the ranking among those entered suggesting she has the form and talent to end up on the podium tomorrow evening. Yet after crashing out in the heats at the world indoors 12 months ago and then exiting both the Commonwealths and Europeans without making a significant mark, Muir has worked to become more assertive rather than letting others set the pace.
“You’ve got to have a complete personality change when you get out on the track,” she said. “I tell myself: ‘you know you want this. You might be one of the fastest but you have to work for it.’ I’m not an arrogant person. But I know what I want to achieve and I have to believe that if I work for it, I will get it. Hopefully that will work at the Europeans.”
Muir’s hopes got a huge boost last night when world No 1 Sifan Hassan opted out of chasing a potential double gold. But even after landing the UK 1,500m title in Sheffield last month, Muir and her coach Andy Young believe going long offers the greatest chance here. “Even though I know I can run a lot faster over 1,500, having not run a fast time in it might have affected the confidence a bit going in,” she said. “The fields are maybe a bit deeper at the 3,000 but it’s a lot more open.” It is not quite win or bust for the Glasgow veterinary student but with others of her age striking gold, Prague is a perfect opportunity for the Scottish prospect to confirm her potential with the Rio Olympics just 18 months away.
After two years of trials and errors, inexperience will no longer be an excuse, she insists. “On the start line, it used to be that the TV camera would dart past me,” Muir said. “Whereas now, I get focused on. You have a bib with a different colour and it’s nice to be acknowledged as one of the faster athletes. But at the same time, I’ve gone into races as an underdog and beaten people ranked ahead of me. When you’ve been there, you try to respect everyone and be aware anyone can sneak up and get you.”
Elsewhere, Scottish duo Kirsten McAslan and Guy Learmonth open up their championships in the heats of the 400 and 800 metres. While British medal hopes will focus on Katarina Johnson-Thompson in the heptathlon and team captain Lawrence Clarke in the 60m hurdles with the Olympic finalist looking to put two seasons of injury and under-achievement behind him.
Ahead of the Championships, British Athletics performance director Neil Black has challenged his horde of young athletes to make names for themselves in Prague.
Britain’s 60m challenge is spearheaded by 21-year-old Chijindu Ujah on the men’s side and 19-year-old Dina Asher-Smith on the women’s, while the likes of Seren Bundy-Davies, 20, goes into her first major championships as European No 1 over 400m.
Johnson-Thompson, the most high-profile athlete in the team, is only 22 and, fired up by last year’s injury frustrations, chasing her first major title in the pentathlon.
Thirty-one of the 37 strong team are 25 or under and, in the absence of big names like Mo Farah, Greg Rutherford or James Dasaolu, Black is keen to see them handle the weight of expectation.
“We want to see people who cope with the circumstances, apply themselves well, perform well and out of that come medals, great performances, finalists and personal bests,” he said. “We are really optimistic we can perform well. For those for whom this is a critical competition to get the experience to demonstrate their progression, it’s the biggest thing they’ve ever done. There’s a real buzz within the team. It’s great to have that combination of young people joining and feeling really good about it.”
Sprint hurdler and team captain Clarke, one the most experienced members of the squad at 24, backed his young compatriots to thrive on the big stage.
“These guys here are putting pressure on everyone else around them,” he said. “They know everyone who is there is going to be thinking, ‘What are these guys capable of?’”