It has been the talking point in track and field for months. But when Laura Muir and Jemma Reekie are asked about the impact of Nike’s shoe technology during an amiable conversation one can suddenly hear a pin drop. The pair look at each other. A PR person intervenes. The journalists protest and press their case. Nothing is resolved.
Earlier the pair’s overly protective coach, Andy Young, had threatened to cancel the interview before it was due to start. He even suggested to his two athletes they should get ready to leave after getting wind that questions about their Nike spikes would be asked.
In truth it all felt a little, well, strange. The 26-year-old Muir is one of the brightest athletes in the sport. She could have rightly pointed out that all shoe companies are involved in a technological arms race and that her and Reekie’s Nike spikes are not new and have been declared legal by World Athletics, given the chance.
Muir has also had first-hand experience of the change in shoe technology given she finished fifth in last year’s astonishing world 1500m final – in a race where all top eight athletes broke the previous championship record.
Meanwhile Reekie, a 21-year-old from Kilbarchan, has set three indoor British records in eight days. The first, over 800m in Glasgow, was by running a lightning quick 1:57.91 – the fastest indoor time since 2006. And she was just as impressive a week later in New York, breaking Muir’s 1500m and mile records.
Fortunately the pair are much more effusive when it comes to talking about their relationship as friends, training partners and legitimate contenders for Olympic gold.
“I think the faster Jemma’s got, the closer we’ve got,” says Muir.
“Yeah, definitely,” nods Jemma.
“To have someone like Jemma right on my heels is so good for both of us,” adds Muir. “And, yeah, she’s like a little sister to me. We travel the world together, we race each other. Well, we race each other, a lot more now. So, sorry to disappoint you, but it’s not a big rivalry. We’re not upset with each other – we both work really well.”
The 21-year-old Reekie was always considered a talent worth watching and last year won the 1500m and 800m European Under-23 titles. But sinus problems had always held her back.
“I used to miss a good few months out of training each year just due to sinus infections,” she explains. “In December I had an operation just to put a stop on that and make sure I’m in the best place I could be for the Olympic year. It’s not benefiting me in any other way other than not missing training.”
The difference has been spectacular. But Reekie very much still has her feet on the ground. “I didn’t have a drink to celebrate my national record in the 800m – although I did go out with my parents for dinner,” she says. “They wanted to have a glass or two – so I was their designated driver for the night.”
Reekie did not celebrate in New York either. “I had to be up at 5am the next morning to go to the airport,” she adds, smiling.
The big regret on Saturday is that the pair will not be racing against each other at the Indoor Grand Prix in Glasgow – despite the best efforts of organisers. Instead Muir will try to break Maria Mautola’s 1,000m world record – while Reekie will go over 1500m.
“It’s going to be very close,” says Muir. “If I don’t pace it right, I’m going to be in trouble. But it will be really special if I do it. I’ve got British and European records but never a world record.”
However, Muir insists that the pair will not avoid each other – like Britain’s two greatest middle distance runners, Seb Coe and Steve Ovett did for much of the 80s, although she does leave some wriggle room.
“We both we run the 800 and 1500m, we both run similar times, so we’re not going to be avoiding it,” says Muir. “We’re going to be doing the same races – well, same competition. So we’re going to clash at some points definitely.”
Can they both win medals at this year’s Tokyo Olympics? Muir says they can – but pointed out that, while Reekie is a stunning talent, she needs time to develop and grow as an elite athlete.
“I am being very careful because Jemma has raced amazingly but I am wary of piling loads of pressure,” she explained. “I think she is capable of doing very, very special things. To run amazing times is fantastic but you need championship experience as well and Tokyo will be her first Olympics. I want her to enjoy that as best as possible and not have that big, big bit of pressure.”
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