Granted the luxurious gift of a nigh-unassailable cushion heading into her concluding 1.5km relay leg at yesterday’s Great Stirling XCountry, Laura Muir was able to treat herself to what could have passed to the untrained eye for a brisk stroll in the park.
Nine seconds clear at the finish as a consequence of sterling support from cohorts Jamie Williamson, Alex Bell and Phil Sesemann, the chief threat to her hegemony came not from an improbable retrieval from her European and American rivals but from any wayward shot from the first fairway at the local golf club whose long rough had been commandeered for this annual showpiece.
“Until the half-way point, I wanted to conserve my effort,” she acknowledged. “It was getting really windy so I wanted to be able to react if someone caught up. It was a matter of running it tactically and not going for times.”
Williamson, excelling in the initial stage, achieved some redemption for an untimely tumble at last month’s Europeans that may have cost him a medal. “That made up for Tillburg,” the Scottish prospect declared. “I was really disappointed with the fall at the Euros but we all had strong legs and then I knew Laura would take it for us at the end.”
Two wins out of two, thus, for Muir in 2019. A triumphant streak surviving the cross-country showpiece’s transplant from its former home in Edinburgh. A winter warmer before she decamps today to the summer sun of the southern hemisphere where she will fine tune for an indoor campaign that will conclude with a chase for a third European title at the Emirates Arena.
Fun runs over, serious business ahead. “European indoors is huge,” last year’s top-ranked 1,500 metres runner acknowledged. “The crowd reaction here was fantastic so you can imagine what it’s going to be like at the Emirates Arena. It’s a championship event so I want to do the best I can.
“I know I’m in good form now. It’s a matter of maintaining and improving it for Glasgow. I will continue to work hard because if you ease off, you won’t get any faster. I’ll try to improve my fitness and then put on bubble wrap for the last couple of weeks before Glasgow.”
Despite her exertions, it could not propel Great Britain and Northern Ireland to overall supremacy in the points standings. Instead, it was Europe who matched their 2018 position with 55 points, with the hosts nudging the USA into third by a mere four.
A race victory apiece, ultimately, with European consistency the differential. However the USA’s proved the most dramatic. Hillary Bor becalmed himself after briefly heading off the designated route for the 8km men’s event, holding firm in a sprint for the line with Sweden’s Napoleon Solomon, with the leading four finishers, including twice-winner Leonard Korir, separated by a single second. “There was a little bit of panic,” the Kenyan-born 29-year-old, who crossed the line in 23:48, confessed.
Germany’s Elena Burkard took the spoils in the women’s 6k but only when a spirited challenge from Charlotte Arter faltered in the closing stages. Seventh at the Euro Cross, the Welshwoman went for broke here and came up five seconds short.
She is among those happy to apply pressure on British Athletics to send a full team to March’s world cross-country championships in Aarhus in what would be a reversal of a policy that has been widely criticised. “We have such a strong endurance tradition in the UK,” she said. “It’s important we have a team.”
Lachlan Oates earned the men’s title at the adjoining Scottish Inter-Districts with British internationalist Mhairi Maclennan easing to the women’s crown.
Elsewhere, Eilish McColgan, pictured inset, ran a personal best of 31 minutes 51 seconds to win the Ooredoo Doha 10k. The 28-year-old Dundee Hawkill athlete has now clocked a PB for the last three years at the Doha road race and moves two second’s closer to her mum Liz’s national record of 30:39.