Laura Muir still has memories of that Brazilian evening. She finds herself going back to the one moment, to the decision to stay or go. Gold or bust. She chose gold; her legs eventually broke.
That call was brave, and for a while it looked beautiful as she left the safe pace of the pack and went after Faith Kipyegon and Genzebe Dibaba. With 300 meters to go in the Olympic final at 1500 meters, she was there, far from fourth place.
But then those legs got heavier, the head bobbed, and one by one the rest caught up. Third was fourth and fourth was fifth and when all was done Kipyegon had gold and Muir was seventh.
Laura Muir will be desperate for gold in the 1500m in Tokyo after her heartbreak in Rio
Five years have passed since that race in Rio de Janeiro, and it sometimes seems incredible that she’s waiting for her first global medal on an outdoor track.
She’s won five European titles in that time, along with two Diamond League crowns and a few World Indoor podium finishes, but it hasn’t happened on the very top podiums for a high-quality athlete yet.
She was fifth as the smart young thing on the worlds in Beijing in 2015, fourth with 0.07 second in their London equivalent in 2017 and fifth in Doha 2019 with a shredded calf – always close but not quite there.
So she is thinking about that final in 2016. About a decision to go for the biggest prize when she probably would have been a bronze if she had stayed with the peloton and kept her strength. Coulda, woulda, shoulda, all those twists, but Muir doesn’t work like that.
“It’s one of those races that I think about a lot and wonder if I would do anything else,” she says Sportsmail, after signing up to write an exclusive column on these pages during her next summit attempt in Tokyo.
‘I’m really thinking about it – wouldn’t I have done it? But every time I still get back to it, “No, I probably would have done the same.” That’s because I couldn’t have gotten the gold any other way. If I hadn’t gone with the break, I wouldn’t have been able to catch them.
Muir went for gold or bust in the Rio 1500m final, but her legs gave out and she finished seventh
‘I probably could have given myself a chance to win one of the other colors, if I had done it differently. But the gold would be gone and to me that was a no at the time. ‘
She has a stop and a thought. Better to swing and miss than not swing at all. To know better than to wonder.
Still, it’s there for the rest of us to chew and deliberate on, not least because Muir faces such a daunting task to get that medal when these late Olympics finally get underway. Indeed, in all athletics, no field is stacked as boldly as the women’s 1500 meters.
“Oh yes,” she says. She can laugh about it because she travels as a big contender. But while the data analysts recently made Gracenote Muir a favorite for gold, other measures encourage much more caution.
In particular, the 27-year-old will be the combined forces of Kenya’s Kipyegon (Olympic champion 2016 and World Silver 2019, with a personal best of 3: 54.22), Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands (reigning World Champion with a PB of 3: 51.95 ) to race. ) and Gudaf Tsegay from Ethiopia (world bronze, who ran in February 3: 53.09 for an indoor world record).
Muir is helped to his feet five years ago in the immediate aftermath of the 1500m final
It is also unknown how much is left in the tank for 30-year-old world record holder Genzebe Dibaba.
To put all of that into context, Muir’s best time is the British record of 3: 55.22, set eleven days after those Olympic Games in Rio and in a race in which she tricked Kipyegon. That was before shoe technologies got crazy and what we know about numbers got mixed up, so lower numbers can be expected, but even then the Tokyo mission is significant.
“It’s great to be a part of this, but of course it also makes it very difficult to get medals,” she says. ‘If you were to receive a medal, that would only make that performance greater.
‘You run into the best there has ever been. I wouldn’t say it’s boring to be in those kinds of fields, but it sure means you’re working harder.
Look at Faith. She’s been around for a long time – medals at the World Cup in 2015, 2017 (gold) and 2019, and she’s an Olympic champion. It is a challenge.’
Challenges are the theme of this conversation. The challenge of the field, the challenge of injuries in bad times, the challenge of interpreting new data in the age of super shoes. But, of course, it is the Covid challenge that has been most urgent, and within the relatively trivial areas of elite sport, there is logistical fraud.
It is illustrated in Muir’s case by what she portrays as a crazy flight to get out of Dubai in January, when her training camp was abruptly halted by news that the British government had added the emirate to their red list. She only had a few hours left to board the plane or she would have to be quarantined upon return.
“Everything just changed overnight, so it was pretty stressful,” she says.
‘We were lucky to see it as it happened, so we were able to act quickly. But we literally had the time we were going to stay out there for a week because the weather at home in Scotland was bad, and then suddenly it becomes, “Uh, how do we get home?”
It’s unbelievable that Muir is waiting for a first global medal on an outdoor track
‘You had to be tested before you went on a trip, so Andy (Young, her coach) left us on our way to the car and racing to this test center. It got pretty interesting.
‘The whole past year has been so difficult for everyone, and there are much more important things going on. But for athletes building up to something as massive as the Olympics, there have just been so many unknowns. ‘
It is by twisted luck that Muir finds himself in the group of athletes unintentionally helped by the delay of the Games. It’s no secret that the second fastest time of her career – the 3: 55.76 that she set fifth in the 2019 World Cup final – was done on the back of a ruptured calf.
With the problem then spreading to her Achilles and then dragging on to 2020, Muir admits she would have been fine for the original Tokyo date. “I had a difficult winter after the 2019 season,” she says. ‘I wasn’t in a great place and I was trying to get somewhere with my body that I was happy with.
Muir has won five more European titles with two Diamond League crowns and a few World Indoor podium finishes since her heartbreak in Rio.
‘To compare where I am this year with last year, I am in a much better position for the postponement.
“I say this by touching every wood I can find, but everything is fine. I feel much more robust. I really can’t remember when I last missed something with a downside.
‘That’s why my run in the Doha final was rather bittersweet. I think (without the calf injury) I could have set a British record.
‘At the same time I was gutted to run that good and still not win a medal, it was a big confidence boost in the sense that I knew,’ Yeah, if I can run that well when I wasn’t 100 percent, what then can I be capable of? “It was bittersweet, but it’s better to happen in a world than in an Olympics.”
Whether Muir will be able to clinch a 1,500-meter medal in Tokyo in full fitness remains to be seen, as well as whether it will be a fair fight.
The 1500m is a race with a complicated past and there has long been a cloud over Dibaba, which was coached to the top by Jama Aden, a man wanted by police in Spain on the basis of doping charges. Ditto about Hassan, whose coach was Alberto Salazar. Five years ago, Muir spoke of “ doubts ” about whether the result of that Olympic final could be trusted, which is an unfortunately well-known consideration in athletics.
Faith Kipyegon claimed gold in Rio and she will be one of Muir’s main competitors again
Other mysteries surround every mid-distance runner’s true shape at a point where shoe technologies force us to redraw what we consider to be a fast or just a very fast time.
“ It’s hard, but it’s always hard to tell in the 1500 anyway because it can be walked in so many different ways – it’s a tactical distance, ” said Muir, speaking at a product launch for Mullerlight Limited Editions, for whom she’s an ambassador. .
No decision has been made on the doubling down and what would be a fascinating showdown at half a mile with her soaring training partner Jemma Reekie, but regardless of whether Muir will fly east under a bright spotlight.
She has driven only two races so far this season, setting a British indoor record in one and comfortably winning in the other.
“A nice sign,” she says. And it is true. But her goals this year are much bigger.
Laura Muir is part of the Müller Athletic Squad