Laura Muir is the focus of this piece, the first in a series by Stuart Weir on the Scottish athletes’ magnificent year in 2022 with 4 medals in 3 championships. Stuart Weir is our most prolific writer for most years, and he was again in 2022, with 24 stories and 120,000 words. For several years, I thought that Stuart was Scottish, not that he lived near Scotland. Stuart Weir has since corrected that error in judgement by his editor.
Laura Muir – three champs, four medals in 2022
Having won Olympic silver in Tokyo, Laura Muir had every reason to look forward to the 2022 season with extra confidence. She might also have had a little trepidation at the prospect of a program of 3 championships – Worlds, Commonwealths, and Europeans – in the space of five weeks. Laura was clear in her own mind that she wanted to be in all three championships. She added that, helpfully, they had been arranged in her own order of preference. The World Championship was her priority. Then the Commonwealth Games, as her medal collection lacked that one, and finally, the European Championship, where she was a defending champion.
She explained: “Yes, in January 2022, I said to myself that I wanted to compete in all three championships and win a medal in all three. So that was my goal. I knew it was going to be tough, but I thought I could do it. That was at a time when I was running really well before I had my injury issues. And it all worked out”.
She was due to run in an indoor event in Glasgow in February but was injured with what proved to be “probably the most significant [injury] of my career so far in terms of length of time I had to have off running. I didn’t run at all in February or March. That was probably the longest time I haven’t run since I started at 11 years old because even at that age, I ran two or three times a week. So not running for two months is the longest time I can ever remember. And particularly with the Worlds being so early and with three champs. But it worked out OK”.
She opened her season with a win at the Birmingham Diamond League, followed by a third in Rome and a win in the GB Champs and trials. She was on her way to Oregon: “It’s an amazing track – the facilities, the whole complex is amazing. It feels very historic, which is really nice. But it’s just in a place where there isn’t enough infrastructure to cope with something like the World Championships lasting eight days. The first time I went to America, it was exciting to be part of that; it is just a pity that it is in a small town. The crowd was the smallest of the three championships. Because of COVID, I just feel happy to be racing with people in the stands! I think things happened that organizers are learning from. I think athletes enjoyed it and got a lot from that, and I am sure the crowd did as well.”
Laura ran an excellent race in her third fastest-ever time of 3:55.28 [after 3:54.50 in the Tokyo Olympics and 3:55.22 in Paris in 2016] for third place behind Faith Kipyegon (3:52.96) and Gudaf Tsegay (3:54.52). Laura’s assessment was: “I was delighted especially considering the amount of training I was able to do and that the final was run after two hard races (heat and semi-final) and considering it was July rather than the end of August. Yes, considering I had lost training, had two rounds in my legs, and it was early in the year. So to run that time against the World Indoor record holder and the Olympic champion and arguably the best middle distance runner there has ever been, I can’t really not be happy with that. My aim was to win a medal. I won a medal, ran a very fast time and in a fantastic race. So I was delighted with it”.
Birmingham was Laura’s second Commonwealth Games. In 2014, in Glasgow, Scotland, she was tripped and denied the opportunity of fighting for a medal. In 2018 the April Games in Australia did not fit with her final year of Veterinary Sciences studies. That 2022 was just 9 days after Oregon, with a long flight in between the two championships added to the pressure. “The timing was tight. I was lucky with Worlds and Commonwealth that the 1500 was early in the program in Oregon. But it is in America, and the west coast, complicated things. They usually say that you need a day per hour to get over jet lag, so that was eight days by which time the Commonwealths were already starting. So it was tough to do worlds, recover off the back of it, and do Commonwealths. At the Commonwealths, a challenge was just physically navigating all the rounds because I had four races”.
Then, in case three championships were not enough, Laura decided to run in the 800 and 1500 at the Commonwealths. “We made that decision quite late. It was when we noticed that they were just heats and final (no semi-final), just two rounds, not three. That made a lot of difference, especially as the 1500 heats were on Tuesday, and the final was not until Saturday. We also go a lot by my form, and I was running well. So the process was: the timetable is better, I’m running well, let’s go for it. But we do like to make the decision late – whether between events or to double up – because it depends on what’s happening, which can change weekly. Who else is running, and how I’m running. By deciding late, we can make the best decision”.
Laura won the 1500m comfortably in 4:02.75, but she ran the 800 final before that. It was an extraordinary race. Mary Moraa (Kenya) won the women’s 800 meters using the strangest tactics any of us had ever seen. One sportswriter described it as: “Sprint like mad, look like you’ve given up, steam past everyone, dance.” The Kenyan led through the bell, then seemed to have run out of energy, dropping back to last before overtaking everyone to win.
The final result was
1 Mary Moraa (Kenya) 1:57.07
2 Keely Hodgkinson (England) 1:57.40
3 Laura Muir (Scotland) 1:57.87
4 Natoya Goule (Jamaica) 1:57.88
With 100 meters to run, Laura was not in the medals: “Yes, I was fourth. And I just said, ‘I can’t come fourth’, I just had it in my head that it wasn’t happening, so I absolutely went for it. It took such a long time for the result to come up, and I was so happy as I would’ve been devastated to be fourth”.
Then she won the European Championship 1500m – not tempted to double up? “I don’t think the timetable worked. And because the Europeans were the last one, I knew that if I was going to double up at one, it would be the Commonwealths. We’re never going to double, but I could have run the 800 as easily as the 1500. But having done the 800 at the Commonwealths, we decided it was better to do the 1500 in Munich.”
“When I got to Munich,” she explained, “physically, I was still OK but mentally exhausted. I think I found the Europeans the hardest, even though, on paper, that was the easiest one in terms of the number of rounds and the competition. But I felt the Europeans were the hardest, being the last. I think it was exactly five weeks from the heat in Oregon to the final in Munich. It was tough, but I felt it was an amazing opportunity that I couldn’t let go by. It was good, but I was a lot to do – physically and mentally to get it right – and it won’t ever happen again”.
She won in 4.01.08. She told me: “It was strange in the Commonwealth and the European that everyone seemed to be looking at what I was doing for, in global champs, I’m not used to that. But it meant that I could control the race the way I wanted to, and yes, it all went to plan, and I got the gold”.
She sums up the year: “I think because we had missed some champs [Covid], it was amazing to have three champs in one year, but that was unique, especially with the Commonwealth being in Britain. It was very exciting. Never again. I’m very glad it’s done, and I am very glad it went well, but I’m not doing that again! It was a lot to do – three endurance events and with doing the 800 and the 1500 at the Commonwealths”.
In Part 2, Laura talks about the rest of the season and some wider issues.