It seemed entirely fitting that on the evening that brought the extraordinarily rich life of Sir Roger Bannister to its end, Laura Muir should prove that there remains a lofty place within athletics for those who also wish to cure the sick and mend the broken.
Unlike the first person to run a mile in under four minutes, the prodigious young Scot lends her medical skills to animals as she nears the conclusion of her veterinary degree.
And although she never met one of middle-distance’s true greats, you sense Bannister – who always saw his distinguished career as a physician as his primary calling – would have roundly applauded the manner in which Muir departed the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham last night with a silver and bronze in her bag amid an unfathomably hectic nine months that she trusts will speed her to graduate with honours.
Second to Genzebe Dibaba in the 1,500 metres final on Saturday, two days after coming third behind the Ethiopian in the 3,000m, the 24-year-old acknowledged a debt owed to the most Corinthian of spirits.
“I have looked at his career over the years and taken inspiration from him,” Muir said. “I remember watching the movie a few years ago and seeing the commitment he had to both, and maybe even more so towards medicine. That was really inspirational, seeing that you don’t have to choose, that you can be the best you can in the two fields. It’s very sad that he’s passed away but he’s been a great role model, not only in athletics and medicine, but the fact he combined the two as well.”
Muir has become a beacon herself, more so that she now has global medals in her collection with an opportunity, surely, to emulate Bannister as a European champion come the summer. Before then, she will head today back into placements, sit exams in May and finally reach the finish line, having been steered so ably by her coach Andy Young who has meticulously sculpted a training programme around his charge’s variable schedule that has remained highly effective.
“I think Andy’s given me a few days off this week, which is very generous of him,” Muir joked. No bad thing after the exertions here and before. Despite the end-results, the equation of juggling sport and study has taken its toll, she admitted.
“I haven’t been able to sleep as much. I’ve not been able to get the recovery in which would have helped. It will be good next year having that recovery and being able to go away on trips as well. I only had two weeks away before Christmas, that’s all we could manage. So more time for trips, more time to recover, a little bit less stress and hassle. I think it will benefit me a lot.”
If her 3,000m performance was astute, her approach in the 1,500 was potent as she sped past Dutch rival Sifan Hassan on the last lap before her pursuit of Dibaba came up just short. Even that scalp has raised her self-belief still further, Muir conceded.
“We’ve got the 800, 1,500 and 5k range and being so close in the 3k, I knew we were very similar ability at the moment. She hadn’t raced that much so I didn’t know what kind of shape she was in. But for the 1,500 I was like, yeah, I want to get the silver this time and I just kind of battled it out. I knew on the back straight I had to go for it and get past her.”
It concluded quite a night for the Burgh of Kinross, with Eilidh Doyle burnishing her already spectacular list of accomplishments with bronze in the 400 metres. The 31-year-old, who was forced to sit out yesterday’s relay final with a calf strain, has rarely run better. A day later, the Scots were together at the track enjoying the spoils of their weekend of wonder.
“It’s lovely,” said Doyle, who will now revert to the hurdles ahead of the Commonwealth Games. “Not only are we team-mates but we’re both from the same town, we went to the same school, although I’d left before Laura got there. We have a bond and we were able to do this together.”