Hidden beneath a knitted beanie, Laura Muir glided anonymously through the lobby of a Glasgow hotel yesterday, keeping a low profile, eyes solely on the prize. Even though the 25-year-old has grown ever more accustomed to the spotlight with each passing athletics season, there is a sense she would much rather let her glorious running speak pointedly for itself.
No danger, however, that the Scot will be able to emerge free of fuss at the Emirates Arena this evening. The poster girl of the European Indoor Championships. A double defending champion. Increasingly, among the faces of her sport on the global stage. No pressure. Yet all the pressure in the world.
“She seems all cool, calm and collected about it because she’s in a good place,” said her coach Andy Young. “It’s become a little bit like water off a duck’s back.”
The consequence, presumably, of winning Diamond League titles and, already, three major golds.
Young, who has recorded every run of the Milnathort athlete since she came under his wing eight years ago, knows there are no guarantees, even for the best of the best. Two winters ago in Belgrade, Muir plundered both 1,500 and 3,000 metres European indoors gold with genuine obduracy and endurance. Same again, she trusts, but with an even more challenging opening night schedule that will see her take her bow in the heats of the former at teatime before the final of the latter after supper.
The draw was kind, with a spot in the initial heat providing a precious extra 20 minutes of recovery. “But the objective with the 1500m is just to get through it using as little energy as possible,” Young notes. “And then it’s all about this big 3000m.”
Which will surely come down to a duel between his charge and Konstanze Klosterhalfen, pictured inset, the 22-year-old German who heads the 2019 rankings and who, unlike her Scottish contemporary, has opted against a double tilt at the podium. “People are talking about this as the race of the championships, which is great,” Young adds.
“You’ve got two young women almost headlining the championships. You can’t quite call it the rumble in the jungle. I was trying to come up with an alternative but I couldn’t think of one.”
Given the proximity of the Emirates to where the old terraces at Parkhead stood across the street, perhaps the jungle reference is apt. This will be warfare of the highest calibre, with her Dundee Hawkhill Harriers club-mate Eilish McColgan – a bronze medallist in 2017 – ready too to engage on all fronts. What separates the Muir of now from the prospect of yore is how she has trained herself in a multitude of weapons, ready for any tactical formation deployed.
“We put ourselves in a hole every single session,” confirms British champion Jemma Reekie, a solid bet to join her training partner in the 1,500m final following some fine showings in recent weeks.
“I didn’t train that hard when I was younger,” adds Reekie. “When I went into Andy’s group, then I started to go ‘OK, this is what it’s going to take’. But I was up for doing it. Some people come to our group, see how hard it’s going to be. And they leave.”
Hard labour has delivered prominence. In turn comes scrutiny. Millions of eyes will be on Muir come 9.40pm. Others, perhaps grudgingly, have cast aspersions from the shadows in recent weeks about the Nike shoes worn during her recent demolition of the UK mile record in Birmingham. The grounds for complaint – that they are not available at retail – have effectively been disregarded by the hall monitors at the IAAF. Others were sporting them last summer without fanfare, Young points out.
They are proving effective, though.
“They are a more supportive spike,” explains Young. “I like them because they have more protection for training. We brought them in for training rather than racing but she liked them.
“I think she could have run in near enough high heels and it wouldn’t make any difference.”
Also today, Katarina Johnson-Thompson will attempt to regain the pentathlon title she last claimed in 2015, a task made all the easier by the absence due to a calf injury of Belgium’s Olympic and world champion Nafi Thiam.
Eilidh Doyle and Zoey Clark chase a final spot in the 400m, while Chris O’Hare and Andy Butchart meet in the men’s 3000m semis this afternoon, where their foes will include Jakob Ingebrigtsen, the 18-year-old Norwegian who stunned many by earning outdoor European gold over 1500 and 5,000m in Berlin last winter. Like Muir, he is chasing a double in Glasgow. That is the only rival show in town.
“I don’t think I’m unbeatable but I believe I can win,” Ingebrigtsen declared. “When I’m standing on the start-line, I’m thinking I’m not here to come second or third.”