So versed is Laura Muir in the art of juggling that you wonder if the circus might offer a viable alternative career. Whether a trainee vet with a sideline in running or a world-class athlete treating animals in her spare time, the 23-year-old’s diary is a complex exercise in conflict management.
Who better then to cope with the rigorous scheduling demands of four high-stakes races inside a single weekend? And the sport’s woman of the moment brought her preparatory skills to the fore yesterday at the European Indoors in Belgrade to coast through the heats of the 1,500 and 3,000 metres with a minimum of fuss to tee up what she hopes will be a golden double this weekend.
Muir had the appearance of someone on a training run as she navigated a path in tomorrow’s final in the longer distance, ignoring her natural instincts to march to the head of the field. Armed with precise knowledge of what was required to progress, she eased into fifth position to advance as a fastest loser, joining fellow Scots Steph Twell and Eilish McColgan, who each took second places to qualify without recourse to a calculator.
“I made sure I knew the times from the first heat in the 3k,” Muir admitted. “So I just kept an eye on the clock and knew I was OK to come through in fifth. We analysed the fields closely so I knew roughly what I’d have to run.”
So intricate was the planning that Muir jogged back to the hotel as a warm-down, carving out precious extra time for food, a massage and a power nap. Other than the Kenyan-born Turk Yasemin Can, it is hard to see who might thwart her in the 3,000m. And with two European records already this year, and the harsh lessons accrued from past championship disappointments, all signs point towards a maiden major title arriving in the Serb capital this evening. “I know that I’m very, very strong,” she declared. “So I’m just going to bring my A-Game and hopefully that’s enough.”
McColgan, despite a virus in the build-up that hampered her preparations, believes bronze might be the most realistic of targets. Twell, an outdoor European medallist last summer, knows unpredictability renders no outcome impossible. “I don’t think the race on Sunday is a foregone conclusion,” she said. “It’s nice to aspire to others in the race, but I’m lining up in the final with them.”
Andy Pozzi claimed 60 metres hurdles gold to deliver the first British medal of these championships, running 6.51 to edge out French rival Pascal Martinot-Lagarde by one-hundredth of a second.
After fighting through a series of setbacks that have plagued his career thus far, this was sweet redemption, he acknowledged.
“At the toughest times and darkest days I always believed I had what it took to be a medallist at major championships. But there were loads of times when I didn’t know if it would actually happen. But I always thought it could so I never gave up. But for sure I doubted it more times than I thought it would come.”
Potential medal shots for Eilidh Doyle and Guy Learmonth evaporated on the opening day with both Scots falling short of their stated ambitions. The latter exited brutally by slumping to last in the first round of the 800m, while Doyle regressed from first to third in the semi-finals of the 400m to miss out on an opportunity to better her silver of four years ago as perennial hurdles rival Zuzana Hejnova swept by.
“I was going out hard but I ended up dying on the home straight,” said Doyle, who will shoot for redemption in tomorrow’s 4x400 relay final. “The way I was running, I knew there were people behind me so I was trying to get to the line as quickly as possible. I knew Hejnova was there and I was trying to beat her so I’d get a good lane. But I’m gutted to get caught out.”
Laviai Nielsen was surer in her semi to book a spot in the 400m final, Morgan Lake eased into the women’s high jump final while Allan Smith will go in qualifying in the men’s event today.