Now five-time champion Laura Muir (coach: Andy Young; club: Dundee Hawkhill) carved herself a special piece of history in the only way she could as she brought home the British team’s first gold at the European Indoor Championships in Istanbul on a night where Keely Hodgkinson (Trevor Painter; Leigh) sent a statement of intent in her own title defence.
Muir, while made to work to defend her women’s 1500m title, was a complete class above as she kicked for gold with 300m to go. She won by 0.36 seconds in 4:03.40 minutes to become the most decorated British athlete at a European Indoor Championships. Teammates Katie Snowden (Stephen Haas; Herne Hill) and Ellie Baker (Jon Bigg; Shaftesbury Barnet) were fifth and 11th respectively.
That marked the British team’s first gold in Istanbul and took the overall medal tally to four however neither Jeremiah Azu (Marco Airale; Cardiff) or Reece Prescod (Airale; Enfield & Haringey) could add to it as they finished shy of the podium in an extremely competitive men’s 60m final, placing sixth and eighth respectively.
That gold-medal tally could very likely double on the final day however as Hodgkinson was also a class above in the semi-finals of the women’s 800m, winning with complete ease in 2:00.05 – a cool 1.14 ahead of anyone else across both races. Guy Learmonth (Justin Rinaldi; Lasswade) is also still in with a shot of a maiden European indoor medal after fighting to come through the men’s 800m semi-finals as a non-automatic qualifier.
As expected, Romania’s Claudia Mihaela Bobocea took the women’s 1500m final out with Muir settling in towards the back. It kept that way for the first 400m, and at a decent pace too, before Muir started making her way through the field to the point where all three Brits were side by side.
With three laps to go Muir was coming for Bobocea, the Romanian held firm but the grimace on her face suggested it was taking its toll. The Olympic silver medallist surged ahead with 300m to go, displaying her trademark and impressive turn of pace, to ensure a fifth European indoor title in supreme fashion and more than any other Brit ever, beating the record held by Colin Jackson and Jason Gardener previously.
Muir clocked 4:03.40 for the historic win with her performance understated by the fact that second, third and fourth all set personal bests, silver medallist Bobocea 0.36 behind though. Muir said:“I didn’t know what to expect and all my race plans went out of the window when they went off that fast.
“I thought ‘just pick them off, pick them off’. To be fair to Claudia she ran so well, and you saw how much it meant to her. I tried to pass her, and she was like ‘nope’ and so I waited, and I was patient. I knew when I went, I would be strong enough. It means so much.
“Going into this championship I wasn’t at the best I have ever been, and I was a lot fitter in 2017 and 2019 when I did the double so I was quite nervous coming here because I thought I don’t think I am at my absolute best.
“But I just hoped that with that grit and determination I would still be able to come here and win. As you get older you appreciate these opportunities, would I rather be here and not 100 per-cent fit, or home and watching? And right now, I’d rather be here. I’m just so chuffed with that.”
Snowden ran a fine race behind those four to finish fifth in 4:07.68 and said: “I’m a little bit disappointed, I really feel like a medal was up for grabs and I think had I raced how I felt at the start of the season I probably could have got one.
“So that is frustrating. Fifth is still up there and I feel I am getting more competitive, but I really need to make that next step and get up there on the podium. I just didn’t have the legs – it wasn’t that I made silly moves or didn’t go with it when I thought I should have, I really couldn’t. I could sense Laura coming up to my shoulder and that’s when she likes to come to the front to make the move but unfortunately, I didn’t have the legs to go with it.”
The third of the Brits Baker placed 11th in 4:10.96 and said:“The word I would use is confused. I felt in really good shape and the last few weeks has gone well in training, I felt strong, but I had no legs and from the start I was struggling so it was confusing when you think you’re in a good place but you’re not feeling like that in a race.
“We’ll go back to the drawing board and go again. I was a bit gutted when I could feel them going away from me as I came here wanting to medal and get that for the team, but when I felt it coming away from me, I knew my legs were gone and lost my stride a bit towards the end. It’s one of those things. I will come back stronger, and it adds more fuel to the fire.”
The men’s 60m was set alight in the semi-finals as Prescod clocked 6.52 in the first heat with eventual Italian winner Samuele Ceccarelli posting a European lead 6.47, that would top the rankings. Azu followed up in the next semi-final with a 6.59 effort to rank him seventh going into the final while Prescod was third overall. Eugene Amo-Dadzie (Steve Fudge; Woodford Green Essex Ladies) unfortunately exited at the semi-finals after running 6.64.
Neither British representative in the final could quite kick on from the semi-finals as Prescod’s start proved costly while the line didn’t come quick enough for Azu. The Welshman clocked a quicker time of 6.58 but it was only good enough for sixth while 6.64 placed Prescod eighth.
Azu said: “I can’t really remember it. It’s a bit of a blur. I need to watch it back. I think I got out OK, but I am not too sure where it went wrong. I need to see it again. We’ll go back to training and fix all the things we did wrong. Our group is insane, so we’ve got to be ready for the fire outdoors.”
Meanwhile Prescod said: “I feel like in the 60m if you miss your start [that’s it] and [especially] in a field like that when it’s world class. Unfortunately, we didn’t get our steps right and that’s what happens if you don’t execute the race, you just miss it. We’re going to be annoyed but we’ve both run well this year and outdoors is where it really matters.
“I’ve got to go back, work even harder, get even better. Obviously, I’m gutted and a bit upset but it is part of athletics. I’ve been up, I’ve been down. I’ve got to get better next time. Marco isn’t going to be happy; he has high standards for us.
“Ultimately this year Jeremiah and I have performed well, it’s probably the first time we’ve let him down. It’s a long season and it’s part of athletics. You can’t get too upset, you’ve got to stay neutral. We know our ability; we know we’re talented and we’ll get it back.”
Such is the excitement of this British team that Hodgkinson looks extremely well set to defend her own European indoor title in the women’s 800m having won her semi-final by comfortably over a second.
The Olympic and world silver medallist delivered as she was expected to in her semi-final cruising around to win in 2:00.05 – that time nearly three seconds shy of her British record, suggesting there is plenty more to come.
Hodgkinson’s semi-final was run far quicker, but Switzerland’s Audrey Werro could only clock 2:01.19 for second while the second semi-final, containing British teammate Issy Boffey (Luke Gunn; Enfield & Haringey), was won by Slovenia’s Anita Horvat in 2:03.11.
“It felt good. I kept looking up at the screen, but you know sometimes you just need to keep the rhythm going rather than wasting energy trying to slow down,” said Hodgkinson. “It is a nice position to be in but I do work very hard to be here.
“It’s still the same plan as always. You never know what will happen and hopefully I’ll have a safe race [in the final] and come away with what I came away with last time.”
Boffey was unable to make it two Brits in the women’s 800m final as she placed sixth in that slower run second semi-final, posting a time of 2:03.94. She said: “It went off pretty quick and that’s OK as I was ready for it. But looking back I didn’t make my move early enough and I got caught in the rough at the back.
“I unfortunately got clipped and just lost my stride and it was over then, there was nothing I could do about it. I nearly fell over but just caught myself and carried on. It’s disappointing because I deserve to be in that final and I know I have the strength and the form to be in that final.”
Meanwhile Learmonth’s pursuit of a first medal at the fifth attempt at these championships remained less than straight forward as he took to the track for the men’s 800m semi-finals having relied on being a non-automatic qualifier in the heats.
In a scrappy race, Learmonth benefited from a quick pace with fifth place in a time of 1:47.50 enough to see him through as a non-automatic qualifier, only France’s Benjamin Robert ahead of him from the first semi-final.
Learmonth’s finish was key as anything slower than 1:47.56 – just 0.06 shy of what he clocked – would have seen him miss out on a place in the final. He said: “Obviously I am relieved to make that final. It doesn’t matter now but these two rounds haven’t been my best performances but I’m in the final and I’m going to have to run a lot smarter.
“There was a couple of incidents but that’s 800m racing and in slow tactical races that’s what happens so I’m just glad I’ve navigated my way through, and I’ll be ready for that final.
“I didn’t have a clue [on the time needed to qualify]. I didn’t see the other race. I saw the race was won in 1:47. I want to be winning these heats, and qualifying automatically, but I didn’t have a clue, but it doesn’t matter now.”
Coverage of the European Indoor Championships continues at 0645 on BBC Two on Sunday 5 March. Full details can be found here.
A timetable, start lists and results can be found on the European Athletics website here.
Great Britain & Northern Ireland medal tally:
Gold: Laura Muir – 1500m
Silver: Neil Gourley – 1500m
Bronze: Melissa Courtney-Bryant – 3000m
Bronze: Daryll Neita – 60m