If you’re a Paula Radcliffe fan, you won’t like this article. If you’re a Laura Muir fan, you won’t like this article. Now we’ve got the caveats out the way let’s crack on.
Tuesday 16th August 2016. Laura Muir starts the Olympic 1500m final as world no 2. Like most middle distance finals the pace was slow. Until around 600m to go World record holder Dibaba made a surge, followed by World no 1 Kenyan Faith Kipyegon and Muir. Result -Kipyegon won gold, Dibaba silver, Muir? 7th. She couldn’t handle the pace of Dibaba and Kipyegon. She overcooked it and she paid for it in the last 200. More sensible athletes such as Jenny Simpson who sat back were rewarded. Afterwards British commentators praised Muir for her bravery. No. She flopped. She ran like an imbecile. She went in with the 2nd fastest time in the world which is great but it was set with a pacemaker. Yes she’s only 23 but she’s been to multiple championships. She should have developed a racing brain that tells her. She can run fast times (a couple of weeks later she set a world lead in Paris). So she should either run hard from the off, which I wouldn’t recommend. Or rely on her strength and wind it up rather than ‘kicking’ which she doesn’t possess the ability to do. In Rio she did neither she believed herself to be in Dibaba’s league because she’d run a fast time and tried to take her on at her own game. Idiocy. Fast forward to 2017. Muir is now double European indoor champion. Congratulations. But it doesn’t answer my glaring question of her. Can she beat world class runners when it truly matters. Allow me to explain.
Many pundits are likening Laura to Dame Kelly Holmes due to her record breaking exploits and her event. Kelly herself rates her very highly. However Kelly was never an athlete that ran around the circuit aiming to break records. Kelly was all about the medals. And while for most of her career she missed out on the G she consistently picked up silverware at every level, till finally in Athens she produced two of the greatest performances in the history of British athletics to become our first double gold medallist for donkeys years. Kelly is a legend and notably a championship performer. Right now, Muir reminds me much more of Paula Radcliffe.
Paula like Muir was a supremely talented athlete in terms of pace. She has a litany of records and is one of Britain’s 3 reigning world record holders (Women’s marathon). However Paula never really did on the big stage. Her track career she became known as a perennial loser. She like Laura was a committed front-runner who suffered from the lack of pace makers at championships. Paula unlike Laura in Rio aimed to take out the pace herself but although she was fast on the circuit she would always fine she’d lack the strength in the major finals to maintain it or she came up against opponents that could run as hard as her and still have the little bit extra (which is why I wouldn’t recommend Laura to run like that). It’s the extra that makes a great. Paula didn’t have the extra, and I don’t Laura has either, they’re bottlers.
2004 Olympics Paula was the marathon world record holder and outstanding favourite for the marathon gold. She ended up dropping out and crying on the kerb. To her credit she did end her career with a global title but I do not think Muir will ever get there. Yes, Muir has now won some silverware but it was against nobody. Whether people admit it or not in terms of the hierarchy of championships, the European Indoors languish pretty low. Yes she’s fast but she doesn’t run fast in championships with other world class runners. It’s almost like the combo of quality runners plus the pressure of a championships turns her into a different athlete. And maybe it does. It’s common for talented athletes to choke on the big stage. Asafa Powell, Leroy Burrell and countless others. This is why I can’t buy into the hype that she will become a Kelly or a Mo because you can’t teach championship mentality and you can’t really develop it. Championship mentality doesn’t mean winning gold. It means producing your best on the big stage. Some athletes are good enough to win golds without their best. But Laura isn’t in that bracket and frankly even if she did run a pb in a championship final the Dibabas, Kipyegons and Hassans would probably still best her. But she’d earn my respect.
It’s about time the British press stopped giving plaudits for so called bravery and guts when someone clearly underperforms as Laura does time and time again and started giving the plaudits to athletes that may not have the glamour of being record holders but that produce their very best when it really matters. The Asha Phillips and the Greg Rutherfords. I for one will not remember Laura Muir’s British record in the Paris Diamond League but I’ll always remember Greg’s leap on Super Saturday, Ohurougu’s dip in Moscow and Kelly’s shock in Athens. Let’s give them the true champions their dues rather than bigging up the running version of a prize fighter.