She runs hard – gun to tape.
A commentator’s dream: racing with her heart on her sleeve, screamed on by fans whose own hearts are in their mouths.
Rarely is she caught, though: it’s a well-calculated risk; a bold tactic which frequently pays off. Hers is the pursuit of athletic history – ticking off national records seemingly at whim: a prodigious talent engaged in a solo game of middle distance bingo.
We speak, of course, of Konstanze Klosterhalfen. Or, actually, does this refer to Laura Muir?
Confusingly, the above could apply to either. Thrillingly, they’re both competing at this year’s European Indoor Championships.
I have long been a Klosterhalfen fan – the athletics world needs the tactical nous of Marcin Lewandowski and Jenny Simpson, but it is also all the richer for the presence of its plucky Karsten Warholms and Matt Hudson-Smiths.
Laura and Konstanze are both fearless competitors, and employ remarkably similar tactics, but we’ve rarely seen them go head-to-head at the highest level. Glasgow is a tantalising prospect, and we can expect fireworks.
Klosterhalfen, twice European junior cross country champion, and silver medallist as an U23 last year, has focussed more on the indoor side of things this season.
It’s been a runaway success: she broke the German national record over the mile at the Millrose Games (and the 1500m one in the process), before shattering her own 3000m record in Leipzig at the national championships, docking four seconds from her previous best, and setting a world lead of 8:32.47.
For context, that’s three seconds faster than the championship record Muir ran en route to the European indoor title in Belgrade.
The four-time German record holder won her first senior international medal in Serbia, finishing just behind Muir in a fantastic 1500m final. The imminent rematches – over both the metric mile and longer distance – ought to be fantastic tussles between two aggressive racers.
If Klosterhalfen is to win a maiden continental title, she’s going to have to do it the hard way – wresting the crown from the grip of one of Britain’s greatest talents. Muir not only won the double in Belgrade, but set championship records in both, and is in scintillating form this year.
She’s won yet another Great Edinburgh Cross Country medal (we’ve lost count); produced a 1:59.50 800m and 14:52.02 5000m indoors already this season – and the first of those two would have won her gold at the last European Indoors; executed a supremely confident 3000m to win the British title in Birmingham; and then capped off her preparations by obliterating the national indoor mile record at last weekend’s Grand Prix.
Rewriting her own 1500m mark in the process, Muir stopped the clock at 4:18.75: an improvement of five seconds upon Kirsty Wade’s time, and the third quickest women’s indoor mile in history.
We saw Laura hit the front of the outdoor European field with almost a kilometre to go in last summer’s 1500m final, and have – time and again – watched her grind out gutsy, eye-wateringly quick, races on the circuit.
Muir is a seasoned competitor these days – Diamond League champion, and growing more race-savvy by the outing – and it’ll be fascinating to see how she approaches the challenge posed by the German.
That said, Klosterhalfen allowed Alina Reh to effectively pace the opening two kilometres of that 3000m in Leipzig, before pulling away with some blistering 31-second splits.
We’ve seen both of these individuals stung before by their determination to run hard, honest races, but they’re learning to vary their tactics and efforts now, which makes Glasgow all the more intriguing.
Both athletes have clearly enjoyed an outstanding winter’s training, and are full of confidence. They’ve raced a combined nine times in 2019, with a return of eight victories and one runner-up (Muir to Ethiopia’s Habitam Alemu over 800m in Torun). Winning is a habit, but it’s one only one of them can maintain this weekend.
Of course, mention must go to their competitors – Melissa Courtney, Eilish McColgan, Karoline Grovdal, and Reh are all real contenders – and both the 1500m and 3000m are far from two-horse races.
But, for fans of full-throttle middle distance contests – this particular head-to-head is a doozy. How lucky we are that we’re about to see two enormous talents race one another over two distances in Glasgow.
This rivalry could prove one for the ages.
Claire Thomas is a contributor to athletics podcast Backstraight Boys.