Sebastian Coe, alongside Steve Cram and Steve Ovett, was once part of a thrilling golden generation which took the world by storm. Icons in an era when top-class athletics captivated millions and was as much an ingredient in the weekly soap opera diet as Coronation Street or Emmerdale.
London 2012 provided track and field with a singular drama to captivate a nation. Super Saturday made legends of Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford. Olympic golds will do that for you. But what now? Who to be the next in the lineage, and fill that void? No doubt, says Coe, that the prime contender is Laura Muir.
Muir’s brilliant twin victories at last weekend’s European Indoor Championships underlined that – bar the absent Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan – there is no-one on this continent close to matching the Scot. Her true foes are across seas and oceans.
Coe believes Milnathort’s marauder is now capable of besting them all. An enhanced change of pace was illustrated in her vicious annihilation of her challengers in last Friday’s 3,000m final, while her tactical nous was underlined on Sunday by how she toyed with the 1,500m field. Both titles defended in an unprecedented repeat.
Eighteen months out from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Muir appears on an elite track toward the ultimate gold.
“I think it would be crazy to think differently,” Coe said. “She clearly has the ability and she has demonstrated the performances that suggest a gold medal is possible. Medals are likely. And I think she is moving towards almost being a phenomenon. She is joining the Paula Radcliffe and Mo Farah-type group. Obviously, there is a little way to go but that’s the journey she is on.”
Yesterday, the 25-year-old was afforded a rare day off to recuperate and enjoy the fruits of intense labour. Some of the statistics generated from her weekend’s work were astonishing. The concluding two laps of her 1,500m would leave her eighth on Scotland’s 400m rankings this year. Her fellow British aspirant Dina Asher-Smith suggested specialist sprinters might have something to fear.
The serious opposition, come October’s World Championships in Doha, will be more menacing than in Glasgow, once Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba re-enters the fray and Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon returns from maternity leave.
Surely, Muir’s advancements have alerted them all. “She’s come on a bundle,” Coe observed. “The difference between the good and the great is the ability to move your feet. The ability to change pace, whether it’s breaking clear of defenders or running clear of a pack. That’s what she’s got.”
She looks unbeatable, he adds. Probably feels an internal invincibility. “It’s not a complacency,” Coe affirms. “It’s not an ‘I deserve this and therefore…’ You just think you’re going to be better than anything out there. And I sense that’s where she’s at, at the moment. Let’s just hope she holds it through Doha then on to 2020 next year. There’s absolutely no reason why she shouldn’t. The biggest challenge will be what she actually decides to run. Does she think 1,500 or 5,000?”
The president of the IAAF’s nod of approval extends to Katarina Johnson-Thompson, the hosts’ other beacon from three days at the Emirates Arena for a pentathlon performance that approached the world record.
Johnson-Thompson’s decision to sever ties with childhood coach Mike Holmes two years ago and decamp to Montpellier looks truly vindicated. “There is a real clear plan as to how she is going to move towards Tokyo with a view to winning Olympic gold,” British Athletics performance director Neil Black said. “That is what she believes she can do and with her performances she is consistently coming out and winning medals.”
A similar relocation looks on the cards for Guy Learmonth, with the British team captain openly contemplating revolution rather than continuing to indulge a homespun set-up in Berwick-upon-Tweed that has delivered occasionally quick times but never prizes.
“He has got lots of things right and has been showing progression and development,” Black said. “If Guy is thinking of making changes, I am sure that is for good reason, but that is certainly not anything we are pushing or exploring. But we are always available to help or to have discussions and explorations.”