As worthy as her trip to Stornoway to open the Lews Castle Museum was, the First Minister was not the reason for the gathering of reporters and cameras on this occasion.
It was Scotland’s first lady of the track, Laura Muir, who was the centre of attention as she returned in triumph from her historic double gold medal winning performance at the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade.
The 23-year-old became the first Scottish athlete ever to win two individual golds at a major championship with her emphatic triumphs in the 1,500 and 3,000 metres. It was a breakthrough weekend for Muir, who had previously been unable to translate her rich talent and potential into major podium finishes.
There can no longer be any doubts about the genuine world-class status of the diminutive Milnathort middle distance runner who now holds five British and two European records from 1,000 to 5,000 metres.
Muir will go into the World Championships in London in August as one of Team GB’s leading medal hopes as she takes on a 1,500 and 5,000 metres double.
As she comes to terms with her Belgrade success, which she revealed prompted personal congratulatory messages from luminaries such as Dame Kelly Holmes, Judy Murray and the aforementioned First Minister, Muir feels she is now ready to embrace the heightened profile she will enjoy at London 2017.
Having herself been inspired as a teenage athlete by watching Jessica Ennis, pictured, revel in being the face of the 2012 Olympics at the same venue, Muir is no longer fazed by the prospect of becoming British athletics’ new poster girl.
“You just have to take it in your stride,” said Muir. “You can’t be winning medals and breaking records without attracting greater attention and expectations on the back of that.
“I will just take it in my stride. I see it more as a form of support than a kind of pressure now. If it had happened a couple of years ago, I would have felt a lot of pressure. Now, I just see it as everyone recognising I’m running well. I’m more relaxed now. The more relaxed I am, the better I run.
“I think it just gives me more confidence about what I want to achieve. To have a couple of gold medals under your belt – you know they are yours now, they aren’t going to go away. That’s a great feeling. I just want to build on that now in future championships.
“For a number of years, I’d been at championships where I was the only one of the girls not picking up a medal. It felt so unfair! Yeah, it’s been hard not to have that medal to your name. The hardest thing was seeing people win medals and knowing you were capable of going faster than them. So it is nice to have gone out there and shown what I’m capable of doing.
“The target now is to get more. I just have to take each championship as it comes. It gives you a bit of identity, having those medals, when you go into other events from now on. You’ve stood on the podium before and that’s going to provide a lot of confidence going into future races.
“Jessica Ennis was an inspiration to all in the sporting world, not just me. What she has done in her career is phenomenal. I remember watching her in London. The reception she got was amazing. To be compared to her is fantastic but she has done a lot more than I have at this point. She has got world medals and Olympic medals. But yes, if I can follow in her footsteps even slightly, that would be amazing.
“The way she handled the spotlight was great. That’s been a big step forward for me from when I first started racing. I was so, so nervous and I thought about things way too much. It took a lot out of me just being so nervous and stressed on the start line whereas now I am just so much more relaxed about it. I just know what I’ve got to do and stick to it. I think it shows in my performance.”
Muir’s dedication to her athletic craft is combined with her training as a veterinary student, to which end she will return this morning as she starts her latest placement.
“It’s for a week at a local vet near Milnathort,” she said. “I’ve got another year left of my course. I will start my fifth year the week after London, that will take me through to the summer of 2018 when I’ll hopefully graduate.”
Her graduation as a world class athlete has been overseen by coach Andy Young, who revealed the Belgrade glory was threatened by a health scare.
“We had a little panic last Tuesday when she woke up and her throat was all red,” said Young. “I had been saying all year that the only thing standing between her and two medals was ill health. You can get up on the day of the race, you’ve got the ’flu and it’s game over. We were flying out on the Wednesday and, on the Tuesday, I got a message saying: ‘My throat is all red’.
“She saw the doctor and he gave her a three-day course of antibiotics. It was a worry. But once she put her foot down in the 1,500 final, I knew she was all right.
“Going into London I think everyone else, including the Ethiopian runners, will be taken aback by her dominance of a quality field in Belgrade. It’s not as if she’s running almost as good as the great African runners – it is as good as anything they can manage. A 29-second last lap at the end of 9,000 metres of racing over the two days? And it’s a 3k? That’s remarkable pace. There won’t be a female distance athlete in the world who isn’t looking at that and thinking: ‘Uh-oh’.”