This is the fourth preview by Stuart Weir on the athletes for the British Olympic team. Stuart Weir wrote this piece on Laura Muir, and her chances in Tokyo!
Laura Muir is a wonderful athlete. Already this year she has run a PR at 800, (1:56.73) and has clocked 3:55.59 for the 1500m, just 0.3 off her PR in that event. She has been European Champion, twice double European Indoor (1500/3000) champion and has won 10 Diamond League races. She has had two fifths and a fourth at World Championships and seventh in the 2016 Olympics. She seems to be in the form of her life, yet given the strength of her event, she could run a PR and come away without a medal. On top of all that she is a qualified vet.
She was originally entered in the 800 and 1500 for Tokyo before deciding to withdraw from the shorter distance. She explained her reasons: “I think concentrating on one event will help a lot. We wanted to give ourselves the option of the double. The more we looked at it, we felt it would have been physically and mentally very tough though. The heat and humidity would have made it very challenging in terms of recovery. With 1500 being second in the timetable it was going to make it harder for me to be 100% for it, [if I had already done the 800]. The 1500 is a much stronger event and my better chance of a medal. So I want to make sure I am100% for I” thick t.
She agreed with a questioner that 2021 looked a bigger medal opportunity for her than any of the previous championships: “I think so. I have been a bit unfortunate at World Championships in 2017 and 2019, that I had quite a big injury in the months prior to both events, which meant that going into them I wasn’t 100%. It was frustrating finishing fourth and fifth, not being fully fit, and wondering what I might have done if I had been. This year I am fully fit and injury-free and I can’t wait to go. I have wrapped myself in bubble wrap to make sure I reach the start line fully fit and in shape and a lot stronger than in previous years”.
She explained what she had learned from the Rio Olympic final where she was in contention but finished seventh: “I think tactically and also learning what your body can do because as much as you might want to do something, sometimes your body would not allow you. And from the Rio race, I learnt what I need to be able to get out of my training compared to what other women in the race can do. Since then we’ve done a lot of nasty training sessions, changing training sessions to do them differently to simulate races and approaching races in different ways. It’s about being prepared for all eventualities in a race and covering all your bases. While I had prepared for several eventualities in Rio, it wasn’t the one that came out in the end”.
She added that, five years on from Rio, “I think am such a different athlete from where I was in Rio. Going into Rio, I had only raced 1500 at a global championship once – Beijing 2015. I have had so many different championships now under my belt from which I have learned a lot. Physically I am a different athlete and physiologically I am able to deal was a lot more than I was then. I’ve done a lot more training and been at an altitude more and in heat. A lot more experience and a different athlete, more developed and a lot stronger.
“Now that I am so much physically stronger and I also know my body better and I’m thinking ‘can I push, can I not push?’ I’m in the best shape of my life and I think I can give it a good go but it partly depends on how the rest of the race has gone. There are a lot of variables to consider but you just have a feel for it and you know your body and whether you can make a push or not. It’s hard to say because things can change in a race very quickly.
She explained further that there was no magic formula, no secret strategy but accumulated experience: “We’re not talking about the last few months but several years – competing at championships and gaining experience, going on warm-weather trips in different locations, temperature checks, training camps, training at different times, different sessions at different times. So it hasn’t been gathering information over the last few months. I’ve been preparing for this day for years.
She also gave examples of how Andy Young, the only coach she has ever had, had added things to training over the years: “More change of pace stuff, more lactic work, more speed work. My coach might change a session halfway through in a way I wasn’t expecting but then in a race, things happen that you don’t expect either. Throwing things into training sessions, getting used to things that can change last minute in a race.
I am a collector of random questions at press conferences. My all-time favorite is the one from the Russian journalist to Dina Asher-Smith at the European team championships at Chekboksary, well off the beaten track in Russia: ‘what were you expecting when he came to Russia? Bears on the street?’
Laura was asked two odd questions: ‘why did you become a vet rather than a doctor?’ As someone pointed out, she could have asked the questioner back: ‘why did you become a journalist rather than a writer!’
Have you packed anything in this unusual year to make you feel at home?: “I got lots of porridge. Being a Scot I love my porridge”. So now you know!