Andy Young has great expectations for Laura Muir as she gears up for European Championships

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Laura Muir  and Jemma Reekie have dates in the 1,500metres at the European Championships


There may be those, as Bruce Springsteen insists, who are born to run. There are others who find an extra step, a lap of honour and a fulfilment in standing and serving.

Andy Young, at 41, has to look back almost a quarter of a century to pinpoint his entry into coaching. He also looks forward next week to the European Championships in Berlin where two of his charges have dates in the 1,500metres.

‘She put the final nail in my running career,’ says Young of Laura Muir, Scotland’s athlete of the moment in an increasingly crowded and elite field.

Laura Muir  and Jemma Reekie have dates in the 1,500metres at the European Championships

Laura Muir and Jemma Reekie have dates in the 1,500metres at the European Championships

This is said with a chortle worthy of a man who has found immense satisfaction in his career as a coach and who is, incidentally, making the remark from the balcony of a hotel room in St Moritz where he is overseeing the final preparations of Muir and Jemma Reekie, whose progress has also been such that one could be forgiven for checking her back for a jetpack.

The story of When Andy Met Laura has been retold so often that it begs the addition of a Harry Connick Jr soundtrack, but the development of the partnership owes little to sentiment and much, much more to the powerful effects of talent and dedication meeting knowledge and commitment.

Muir was a veterinary student who loved to run. Young was a coach at Glasgow University.

‘She came to me in the early autumn of 2011,’ he said. ‘I saw something special about her. You can just see it sometimes. It’s not only in the style but it’s in the eyes. It’s how a runner keeps pushing herself to do better, catch the girl in front.

‘I did some running with her. The first time I ran with her, I could more or less keep up. That was September. In December, she qualified for the European cross-country. That quick.

‘I told her, then, I would come down to do a training session with her at Garscube because she couldn’t make normal training because of her studying. She dropped me in the first rep. I was just hanging on. I just couldn’t keep up with her. That was the last time I did an actual training session. I kid her on, telling her she ended my career.’ 

That career was marked with an extraordinary distinction. Young, at 16, won the world schools title over 800m in Nicosia in 1994. This proved not to be the harbinger of appearances in Olympic finals but rather an indication of what his vocation would be. Young, even then, was immersing himself in coaching.

‘I was working then with Gerry McVeigh, a ship-yard worker who had come into athletics to coach his son,’ he added. ‘He had a family and job and didn’t have time to go on courses so I would go.

‘When I won the world schools, we were both involved. We had to share stuff.. I did a lot of coaching courses, educational days in my teenage years.’ His lessons became ever more focused. He went to lectures by Peter Coe, father of Sebastian, and Steve Cram.

Coach Andy Young has great expectations for Muir, starting with the European Championships

Coach Andy Young has great expectations for Muir, starting with the European Championships

Coach Andy Young has great expectations for Muir, starting with the European Championships

‘I was a good junior, so I got to go to senior camps and learn from the best around,’ he says. He also went to Loughborough University and won a scholarship to an American college. ‘I had a feeling of loyalty and stayed with Gerry until I was about 18 but university was a natural split. I went to Loughborough and handed it all over to George.’ He is referring to George Gandy, the sage of Loughborough, who coached Coe Jr. 

‘He took care of everything,’ said Young. ‘He is one of the legends of the sport.’ The move from running to coaching was so smooth he barely noticed it. ‘It wasn’t much of a decision,’ he says. ‘I used to give a lift to a guy I trained with and helped coach. I was getting a little bit older. I would do the training but the injuries were catching up with me. It was a gradual thing.’ And then, of all the training sessions in all the world, in walked Muir. One track career was forged. Two lives changed. Her progress was sudden and it has been sustained.

‘I remember 18 months after she came to me watching her in the Kelvin Hall,’ says Young. ‘I turned and said to the people next to me: “She looks like the best distance runner we have ever had, British or Scottish”. It seemed a bit wild at the time. But now…’ 

Muir won junior team gold in that European Cross-Country Championship shortly after meeting Young. In 2013, it was gold in the same championships in the Under-23 division. In 2017, she won gold in 1,500m and 3,000m at the European Indoor Championships. This year she has added silver in the World Championships in the 1,500m and bronze in the 3,000m.

So what makes her a champion? ‘I suppose it is quite simply put. She has both speed and endurance. But she is tough, too. There is a fire in those eyes,’ says Young. ‘The raw product was always exciting. But I’m never surprised by what she does on the track because I have seen it all and more in training. She always finds something extra.’ He finds it both difficult and exciting to try to assess Muir’s potential. ‘I believe there is a startling 10,000m in her and a remarkable half-marathon,’ he adds.

The progress has been marked by a significant development.

Young admits he 'saw something special' in Muir when she came to him back in 2011

Young admits he 'saw something special' in Muir when she came to him back in 2011

Young admits he ‘saw something special’ in Muir when she came to him back in 2011

‘She always worked hard but she needed to learn how to push herself into the pain zone,’ says Young.

‘That’s where the best athletes do their best work. She likes to be a winner. We work on pushing the limits.’ Muir, 25, will be joined in Berlin by Reekie, 20, who has made extraordinary strides. Technically awkward when she came to Young three years ago, she has developed quickly, racking up a succession of personal bests.

‘The work with Jemma is all about patience. She is determined and wants success and it will come,’ declares Young.

The mission in Berlin for Reekie will be to make the final. For Muir, the target is much higher. ‘It will be all about winning for Laura,’ says Young. ‘She will judge the championships on that.’ Young, too, has another excellent prospect in Sol Sweeney, the 19-year-old who has consistently set a series of personal bests in 800m, 1,500m, 3,000m and 5,000m.

‘He’s running faster than Mo Farah at the same age,’ Young explains.

Sweeney may be the prospect in the making, Reekie is the coming star but Muir is already the most authentic of deals. The athlete has been open about how much Young has given her in terms of conditioning, strategy and inspiration. But what has Muir given Young?

‘That’s a difficult question,’ he says. ‘It is obvious that she has brought me recognition as a coach.’ ‘But I always think Laura’s importance is much more than that. She offers the chance to others to show what they can do. I always feel that the lesson to young Scots girls is pretty simple. She looks like you, she talks like you, she lives down the road from you… so why can’t you try to do what she does?’ It is the final word as a training session in St Moritz beckons. The examination in Berlin and beyond, though, may offer lessons to prospective pupils throughout Scotland.

 

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