Jemma Reekie spearheads British middle-distance revival

It's been 16 years since Kelly Holmes won two golds for GB in Athens. Now Reekie and training partner Laura Muir are taking on the world.
By Rory Jiwani

After a fine junior athletics career, Jemma Reekie is making her presence felt in the senior ranks.

The 22-year-old Scot has been almost unstoppable so far this season, winning five races out of six and clocking the fastest 800m of 2020.

Her training partner, reigning 1500m European champion Laura Muir, who finished just outside the medals at the last two World Championships, is very much part of the reason for her success.

Both have impressed on the Diamond League circuit this year, but Reekie is unbeaten over two laps this season and could be the one to end Britain's global middle-distance medal drought at next year's postponed Tokyo Olympic Games.

"I’ll just use it as a bonus year to work as hard as I can until next year, and I’ve made leaps and bound in training these past few months." - Jemma Reekie speaking to PA Sport

The lockdown housemates putting Britain back on the map

Reekie and Muir both train under coach Andy Young in Glasgow.

In March, the coronavirus lockdown saw the youngster - and her dog Dolly - move in with her British team-mate so they could continue working together.

Reekie has since returned home, but the arrangement is paying dividends for them both judging by performances since.

Muir's preference for 1500m means they have largely been able to avoid each other on the track.

Reekie edged out her former housemate in the Trieste 800m at the start of August, breaking the magic two-minute barrier for the first time.

Two weeks later, Muir finished ahead - second against fourth - in the 1000m at the Monaco Diamond League.

The pair remain close friends with Reekie telling STV News, "Training with Laura is amazing, I have learned so much from her."

"It's so nice. Everything we do, we are genuinely happy for each other every time somebody's running well. More athletes need to be like Laura." - Jemma Reekie to Scottish Athletics

Britain has long had a reputation as a middle-distance superpower in athletics.

Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett became Olympic champions at Moscow 1980 with the former beating world champion Steve Cram to retain his 1500m crown at Los Angeles 1984.

Peter Elliott's 1500m silver at Seoul 1988 signalled the end of a glorious era for the men, and it was Kelly Holmes who put Britain back on top of the world.

After her 800m bronze at Sydney 2000, the former army sergeant became just the third woman to do the Olympic 800m-1500m double at Athens 2004.

Kelly Holmes wins the 1500m at Athens 2004, her second gold of the Games

Since then, African-born athletes have dominated middle-distance running winning 11 of the 12 golds on offer at the last three Olympic Games.

The exception is Matt Centrowitz of the United States who won the 1500m at Rio 2016.

But with two-time reigning Olympic champion Caster Semenya out of the picture due to new regulations concerning testosterone levels, the women's 800m is now wide open.

Halimah Nakaayi was a shock winner at last year's World Championships in Doha, taking gold from Raevyn Rogers and pre-race favourite Ajee Wilson.

Reekie went out in the heats in Doha but has shown far better form this year, beating Nakaayi indoors in Lievin, France back in February.

The Ugandan was also behind Reekie in the 1000m in Monaco, finishing in fifth place, with reigning Olympic 1500m champion Faith Kipyegon taking victory ahead of Muir.

Another rising star, Ireland's Ciara Macgeean, was third.

Nakaayi has not appeared outdoors since then with Reekie going from strength to strength.

She is unbeaten since Monaco with two wins over 1500m and two over 800m.

Shortly after Muir's 1500m triumph at the Stockholm Diamond League, Reekie cruised clear of world silver medallist Rogers in decisive fashion.

She won again just 48 hours later in Chorzow, Poland, clocking the fastest time of 2020 in the process.

Reekie's burning Olympic ambition

As a schoolgirl, Reekie started out in cross country events before joining her hometown Kilbarchan Amateur Athletics Club just west of Glasgow.

She told Scottish Athletics that she wanted to make a career from running at the age of 10, but carrying the Olympic Torch ahead of London 2012 heightened her ambitions.

"London was the first Olympics I can remember. I carried the Olympic torch after my auntie put me forward for it. When I was told I was getting to do it, the letter said: ‘This is your first step towards becoming an Olympian yourself’.

"And I was like ‘WOW, that’s so cool’. It felt as if I was dipping my toe in the water."

Watching the Diamond League at Glasgow's Hampden Park in 2014 also inspired her and, a year later, she started working with Muir's coach Andy Young.

She recalled, "A lot of people were asking me if I was going to go to a college in America on an athletics scholarship or go to Loughborough [University]. But as soon as I did the first sessions with Andy’s group, I wanted to grab that opportunity - although I felt I was too slow to join the group!

"I was a little nervous, but that first day I bumped into Laura on the way into the track and she was really friendly. So was everyone else in the group.

"Andy put me at ease really quickly, too. But I was a very long way behind on the reps in the first session."

Speaking alongside her then-housemate in a Scottish Athletics webchat in June, Muir said, "It feels like I've always been training with her even though it was only five years ago!

"I just remember she was very very keen from the start and worked really hard. There was a lot of promise and ability there and it's nice that she's got the opportunity to show that now." - Laura Muir on Jemma Reekie

Reekie soon caught up with her training partners and gave notice of her talent with gold over 1500m at the 2017 U20 European Championships in Grossetto, Italy. She credited Muir for her part in that success after her fourth place in the 3000m.

She said, "I'd done really badly in my 3k and I was on the phone to Laura straightaway. She was travelling up to altitude training but I knew she'd pick up straightaway and I could speak to her about the race. And I had the 1500 the next day.

"We probably weren't even that close at that age but I knew if I'd phoned Laura she'd give me a kick for tomorrow! For me to be able to do that, it just shows how friendly and approachable she is."

After finishing second to Olympian Laura Weightman in the 1500m at the 2018 British Championships, Reekie made her Diamond League debut in London and went out in the heats of the European Championships.

But more success followed a year later at U23 level as she won both the 800m and 1500m in the European U23 Championships in Gavle, Sweden.

Following her Doha disappointment over 1500m, Reekie has focused more on the two-lap event to good effect.

A superb indoor season, in which she set British records over 800m, 1500m and a mile, has been backed up outdoors in no uncertain terms.

Reekie and Muir clearly spur each other on to greater heights, and will continue to do so ahead of next year's Tokyo Games.

"Having each other, you know you've got to do it for each other. If I'm tired before the start of a session I'm like, 'I've got to help Laura out as much as I can' and we both do that." - Jemma Reekie