Laura Muir recalls vividly looking up at the honours board in the corridors of Kinross High School in her native Scotland. Not once did she set her ambitions any loftier than that. The name that repeatedly cropped up was Eilidh Child, the 400m hurdler, who had been a recent pupil at the school and the star turn at every school sports day.
The distances that Muir ran were longer than Child’s but her aim was the same: to have her name imprinted on the school walls. The lack of ambition was with good reason. “When I started running at primary school I’d finish in the top 10,” Muir says. “I only really went to athletics as a friend of mine did. I went along because it was a laugh. I never really won any medals from there through my junior career. I just enjoyed it.”
How times have changed. The 20-year-old is the third fastest woman this year over both the 800m and 1500m. In fact, the only two people above her on the 1500m list, Genzebe Dibaba and Abeba Aregawi, have both beaten the previous world record this year.
Muir’s time of 4min 5.32sec in the 1500m at the indoor Birmingham Grand Prix a fortnight ago demolished her personal best and shattered the Scottish record. In fact, Kelly Holmes is the only British athlete to have covered the same distance quicker indoors.
There is a sense that Muir does not know quite how good she is, or can be. Downplaying her run in Birmingham, she said: “During that I was just concentrating on racing. I had my eye on everyone around me. I didn’t once look at the clock, I was so absorbed in the race. When I finished and looked at the clock, that was a bit of a surprise.”
Such runs have caused expectations to rise ahead of the World Indoor Championships, which start in Sopot, Poland on Friday, but she boasts just one major senior championship to her name, the Worlds in Moscow last year when she raised eyebrows by finishing eighth.
“For me, Sopot is very much about learning,” says Muir, who admits she hasn’t even worked out her preferred distance long term – she and her coach Andy Young have opted for the shorter distance in Poland. “My coach is more focused on my long-term development. This is still one of my first experiences so it’s a steep learning curve.”
She is also learning to become a vet, and has had to go part-time for the third year of her course. Being a vet was always the focus; her athletics only became a more realistic goal with her move to university in Glasgow and working with Young.
“It’s strange, as the athletics is never something I saw myself doing,” she says. “I never thought I’d be an elite athlete. So I didn’t have any idols. I think the only idol I maybe had was a vet I worked with who was absolutely brilliant for me. That was the focus growing up, I’d always loved animals and I followed a science route with my studies so I could pursue being a vet at university.”
There is one athletics memory that remains etched in her mind, namely Holmes’ middle-distance Olympic double in Athens 10 years ago. “More than anything, I just remember that expression on her face,” says Muir.
It would be premature to say the young pretender can emulate Holmes over both distances but Muir is one of an increasing number of young athletes currently shining north of the border, all of which is nicely timed for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer.
Before that, Muir has veterinary exams to contend with in May, but she has constant reminders of the upcoming Games all the way from Hampden Park, which will host the athletics and where she visits a sports clinic, to her regular training base at the city’s Emirates Arena.
“There’s a big electrical board at the Emirates with the days, hours, minutes, seconds counting down,” she says. “So you’ll look up every now and again and think, ‘oh, we’re 30 seconds closer’. It’s a constant, exciting reminder.”
Predicting how Muir might fare in Sopot and Glasgow istricky, such is her inexperience. There are hints she relishes the big stage, from that Birmingham win to exceeding expectations in Moscow, as well as her bronze medal at last year’s European Under-23 Championships.
Much of that is down to natural talent – Young previously described her as “an anomaly you almost never see” – but also her mental fortitude. Looking back on Moscow, she recalls: “I saw people expected to do well intimidated.” The same, it would seem, cannot be said of Muir.
Three more hopefuls
Injuries have blighted the 21-year-old tipped by Colin Jackson as “the real deal” but the newly crowned British 60m hurdles champion is getting back to form and fitness.
The Liverpudlian, 21, aspired to compete in the pentathlon but failed to earn one of the eight invitational places so she goes in the long jump – and is ranked fourth in the world.
It’s easy to forget that Bleasdale is still just 22. Injuries entirely erased her outdoor season in 2013 but a strong winter has seen her repeatedly clear 4.70m in the pole vault indoors this year.