Laura Muir facing a Hamlet moment ahead of the Olympics

To double, or not to double, that is the question which Laura Muir must ponder in a pre-Olympic period which is now measured in weeks, not months.
Laura Muir is keeping her options open for Tokyo. Picture: Chris Cooper/Action Plus/ShutterstockLaura Muir is keeping her options open for Tokyo. Picture: Chris Cooper/Action Plus/Shutterstock
Laura Muir is keeping her options open for Tokyo. Picture: Chris Cooper/Action Plus/Shutterstock

The 28-year-old does not want to come and go from Tokyo with a Shakespearean tragedy written as her autobiographical tale. Like Hamlet, she covets the throne above all. What she will hope to avoid is to poison her ambitions before a glorious coronation is even within reach.

Fresh from two victories on American’s west coast that suggests both her speed and endurance are in the finest of fettles, she has barely allowed her jetlag to evaporate ahead of an all-too-rare outing on British soil at Sunday evening’s opening Diamond League leg in Gateshead.

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From Los Angeles to Tyneside within seven days, she still craves a Hollywood ending to the most vital summer of her career to date. The European champion confronts a field that includes fellow Scot Eilish McColgan, inset, over 1,500 metres. Yet her range has forever been prolific. What would be an enticing additional duel in Japan over 800m with training partner Jemma Reekie is “certainly an option”, she revealed yesterday.

“Nothing is set in stone at the moment,” Muir confirmed. “I've raced a bit this year but I've still got a few more races ahead of the trials. I don't think there will be a 5,000. But I have not made a decision in terms of the events."

What is certain is that she will eventually head east with few reason to fear. Before the world as we know it was turned upside down, she and her coach Andy Young reconnoitred Tokyo to gather data and insights to inform these tough calls.

Such attentions to detail are among the myriad reasons why Muir is unrecognisable from the stripling who was nine seconds adrift in second place on her last visit to Gateshead, almost ten years ago, for the pithily titled Northern Junior League North Division Premier.

Back then, the shy teen who’d kept pet rats because her mother had deemed hamsters too ferocious expected her professional path to come solely as a veterinarian. Now she is a globetrotter, in demand by promoters wherever meetings are held. An odd existence, she acknowledges. Covid, for all its challenges, provided the pride of Milnathort with priceless opportunities to “normalise” close to her kith and kin.

“That was probably the longest spell I've had at home for a long period of time. So it was just nice to have a bit of home time, as much as I couldn't see friends and family, that that was really hard. That was the hardest point. Having your family half an hour down the road and not being able to go and see them was very difficult. Luckily things are looking a lot more positive this year, and we're able to move around.”

Free movement was one ingredient she lacked ahead of her last significant outing, the 2019 world championships in Doha, where a calf tear hobbled her build-up. Placed in its fullest context, fifth place in the 1500m final in a time of 3 minutes 55.76 seconds – the second-quickest of her career – was perhaps her finest work yet.

The resilience shown bodes well. Yet as she turns the pages towards Tokyo, who can tell with certainty whether she will reign or fall? “I never expect to win an Olympic medal,” she acknowledges. “It's incredibly, incredibly tough just to make the Olympics and the final as well. The events are so strong too. I know we have to work incredibly hard to get there.

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“You know, I've been lucky, I've been very consistent with my training over the winter, and races have gone really well. I'm hopeful that I can I can win a medal. And if I can, it will be fantastic.”

Ditto for Dina Asher-Smith, aligned with Muir at yesterday’s pre-event media call. The 25-year-old world 200 metres champion can benchmark herself in potent 100m that includes Jamaica’s double Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and brash new American star, Sha’carri Richardson, the fastest woman in the world so far this year.

The Briton utilised the enforced hiatus to good effect. “I’m much, much, much stronger physically,” she confided. “I've just had so much more time to work, I'm much stronger now and much more technically proficient.”

Elsewhere, Andy Butchart races the 5,000m while fellow Scot Nikki Manson readies herself for next month’s Olympic trials in the high jump.

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