Some superstars propel themselves into the limelight like a wrecking ball from a cannon. Others light a fuse but make us settle back for a slow burn. In life, as on the athletics track, Laura Muir has never been one to loudly demand attention. Her deeds can generate noise enough. And although the Scot was once more prospect than prodigy, she now resembles a human torpedo on a trajectory into the unknown.
At last Saturday’s indoor Grand Prix in Birmingham, the 25-year-old collected the British records over the mile (4:18.75) and 1,500 metres (4:01.84) in a single trawl. An over-sized cheque, attracting plaudits aplenty for the main attraction.
Hard to imagine that six years earlier, she ventured to the same meeting on a fact-finding mission rather than to participate, not quite an unknown but still not a must-get on the bill.
Mo Farah was being studied from the sidelines. The first time Muir had encountered the man who would become a four-time Olympic champion in person. “I’d only seen him on TV before,” she told me that day. “Especially in the 1,500, it’s so tactical and how you position yourself is really key. So I just watched how he went about that, seeing when he sat back and when he pushed the pace.” A weakness then, she acknowledged. Now, utterly and definitely, among an arsenal of assets.
Since first presenting herself on start lines as a schoolgirl in Kinross at the age of 12, Muir has cracked a code of marginal gains. Her 1,500m best then was five minutes 33.16 seconds at a late-summer meeting in Grangemouth. The next two years brought drops of six and seven per cent, then an effective mid-teen stall. Significantly, her move to university in Glasgow in 2011 begat her successful partnership with her coach, Andy Young, pictured above.
Eight per cent dropped from her times in the subsequent season, enough to come 12th at the Olympic trials. Nothing yet to astonish. But it is the relentless advances since which have been as impressive as unprecedented. From 68th in the world rankings to eighth in 2014, to first in 2016, and near the front ever since. Cuts in times, too, both in races and in training, all measured meticulously on Muir’s Garmin smart watch and then exported into a complex spreadsheet attended by Young. “That then allows me to analyse and play with the data,” he revealed. “Hopefully all adding up to better performances on the track.”
The true repayment on investment is not quantified in milliseconds but in golds, silvers and bronzes and appearances in major finals. The reigning Diamond League champion accelerated from eighth in the 2013 European indoors to twin triumphs at the 2017 edition. Her initial IAAF world championship outing in 2015 ended in the semi-finals. In the two subsequent global jamborees, she finished sixth and fifth with a seventh place in the intervening Olympic final in Rio.
But it is in the past 24 months where Muir has truly entered an astounding prime. Two world indoor medals, a European outdoor title, and flirtation with all-time marks.
Her mile last weekend was the third-quickest ever. At next week’s European Indoors in Glasgow, anything less than a double defence will underwhelm.
Young has put in much to continue to generate progression with his charge’s range between 800 and 5,000m adding to her legend. The more skills perfected, the more tactics that can be deployed.
“We purposely work in her coaching to improve pretty much every element of her running,” he added. “Speed, lactate tolerance, endurance. But with a long-term plan to it. Not to mention her strength and technique.
Now people already thought she had amongst the best technique on circuit for a distance runner. But still we work week in and week out to further improve it.”
All of which should be ominous to her would-be rivals. Indoor prizes will be fought for. World and Olympic crowns are now within reach.
Muir’s boundless ambition speaks volumes. Her explosion into the stratosphere may be upon us.