Laura Muir bounces back to win 1,500m on golden summer’s night at Commonwealth Games

·5 min read
Laura Muir - Laura Muir bounces back to win 1,500m on golden summer’s night at Commonwealth Games - GETTY IMAGES
Laura Muir - Laura Muir bounces back to win 1,500m on golden summer’s night at Commonwealth Games - GETTY IMAGES

Forever the bridesmaid, Laura Muir finally discovered how it felt to play the bride at a global Games. Yes, she finished eight seconds outside the time she had needed for Olympic silver and yes, she clearly profited from the absence of Kenya’s brilliant Faith Kipyegon, but these were frivolous details as she absorbed the rapture of a 32,000-strong Birmingham crowd on a golden summer’s night.

So often, with the agonised grimace that has become her final-lap trademark, Muir has had to fight tooth and claw for the minor medals. But here she decided, with more than a lap to spare, that victory in the 1,500 metres was hers, striking for the front and never looking in any danger of being chased down. She seldom makes middle-distance running appear easy, revealing the after-effects of doubling up in the 800m as she laboured through the last few strides. Still, never mind the aesthetics. This was all about grasping the international outdoors gold that her lavish talent deserved.

“I knew my strength was in my kick and I have a good amount of speed, so I tried to trust it and hope nobody caught me,” reflected Muir, who finished over a second clear of Northern Ireland’s Ciara Mageean in 4:02.75. Having missed the 2018 Commonwealths to take her veterinary exams, she channelled all her efforts into filling in one glaring gap in her medal collection. “It’s rotten at the time, but I would have told myself, ‘Your time will come, you will learn from it and come back stronger. It has been eight years since I raced at the Commonwealths, and it has been bugging me. This means a lot.”

When Caster Semenya won the 1,500m on the Gold Coast four years ago, Muir was a detached observer, busily completing her qualifications as a vet. In 2014, on home soil in Glasgow, she finished only 11th, having taken a tumble in what she called the “most heartbreaking race I ever ran”. Against that backdrop, this was a chance she resolved not to miss. Rarely has a rendition of Flower of Scotland moved her so much.

“I tried to hold it together during the medal ceremony – it was very special,” she said. “It is not very often you can run in a Scotland jersey, let alone be on top of the podium in front of a British crowd. The last Commonwealths, I was working in the hospital. I had it on my phone in between consultations and operations. So, this is the one I wanted. This is the one I set out at the start of the year to achieve.”

Muir had the unusual distinction of featuring in two medal presentations on one night. The ceremony for the 800m had to be hastily rearranged after the Jamaican team lodged a protest against her bronze, secured only when she hurled herself across the line on Saturday night to pip Natoya Goule. The Jamaicans claimed the photo finish was not conclusive, but officials eventually decided, 2½ hours after the race, that the result should stand.

“I was almost back at the athletes’ village when they said the ceremony would be postponed,” she explained. “It was stressful, as I still had to crack on with recovering for the 1,500. It wasn’t until the bus arrived that we received confirmation that I had it. Luckily, I didn’t have to go to sleep without knowing. It was a relief.”

Birmingham has not always harboured the happiest memories for Muir. It was here in 2018, en route to silver in the world indoors, that she disclosed her frosty relationship with the champion, Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba. Jama Aden, Dibaba’s coach, had recently seen two of his athletes suspended for doping violations, and Muir admitted she found it difficult to race alongside her. This time, there was no shadow of controversy or rancour, merely a collective toast to Muir’s crowning feat.

“To come back and win means a huge amount,” she said. “I felt great warming up, still believing I was in good shape. I made a decisive move with 500m to go, as I wanted to break away a little and hold it for the finish.”

This final night of athletics brought a memorable track and field programme, marked by capacity crowds even for morning heats, to a Caledonian crescendo. No sooner had Muir fulfilled her quest than Eilidh McColgan added silver in the 5,000m to her 10,000m gold, again rushing to the stands to share the moment with her mother Liz, twice a Commonwealth champion.

“I’m sharing an apartment with Laura, so I knew she had it in the bag,” McColgan said. “That’s her event. Her bronze in the 800 had already inspired me, but it was amazing hearing the crowd as she won the 1,500. I gave everything I could. I wasn’t even sure I was going to race, after the whole emotion of the 10,000. But I led almost every lap of the race and was almost waiting for the others to come past. I can’t ask for any more. It’s completely overwhelming.”

McColgan, who had to help her lactic-riddled compatriot Eloise Walker into a wheelchair in the aftermath, is honoured with flag-bearing duties for Scotland at Monday night’s closing ceremony. But as the sun set on these Birmingham Games, it was Muir to whom the greatest glory belonged.