ritain’s Tokyo middle-distance heroes Laura Muir and Keely Hodgkinson put winter injuries behind them as they returned home and started their potentially game-changing away campaigns with encouraging victories in Saturday’s Birmingham Diamond League.
Hodgkinson and Muir won Olympic silver in the 800m and 1500m, respectively, last summer and both lived up to the billing at the first major athletics event held at the newly rebuilt Alexander Stadium, where Dina Asher-Smith also earned her first victory of the outdoor season in the 100m.
The venue will host this year’s Commonwealth Games, which are sandwiched between the World and European Championships in a huge summer for British athletes, and while tougher tests lie ahead – including trying to close the gap with their Olympic conquests, Athing Mu and Faith Kipyegon – for Hodgkinson in particular, it was a resounding success.
The 20-year-old broke the British indoor record in Birmingham in February before a quad injury forced her to withdraw from the World Indoor Championships, where she would have been favorite for gold.
However, on an afternoon when fast times were otherwise hard to come by, the British record holder proved her form with the fastest season opener of her short career, beating France’s Renelle Lamote and Jamaica’s Natoya Goule. to win by almost a second. in 1:58.63, the fourth fastest race in the world so far this year.
“It’s definitely an improvement over last year, but I think the bar has been raised so much this year,” she said. “Having run 1.55 last year [in the Olympic final], my goal this year is to run 1.58s, 1.57s, 1.56s consistently. I want to be up there in the Diamond Leagues, not finish fourth or fifth. So even though the championships are there, I want to be more consistent throughout the year.
Muir had also been forced to scrap her indoor plans due to what she initially thought was a back injury, but the 29-year-old revealed she was actually suffering from a ‘stress reaction to the femur”, which forced her to miss two months of racing.
“It’s the most serious injury I’ve ever had. I don’t think I’ve had such a long break since I started running at 11 or 12,” said Muir, who cleared the field well with Jessica Hull chasing him before moving away from the Australian to win in 4:02.81.
“I didn’t even think I would be racing here today, so not just to race, but to be competitive and win, I’m very happy.”
The Scot, who claimed she was ’90-95 per cent’ fit, and Hodgkinson will now travel to the United States for next weekend’s prestigious Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field, where they will face Kipyegon and Mu.
The historic Oregon track, which like Alexander Stadium recently underwent a major facelift, will host the World Championships later this year, where Muir will seek a second outdoor world medal after broke his duck in Tokyo.
“At the start of the injury I was a bit unsure of what I would do this summer, but now I know I still want to do all three. [championships] and win a medal in all three,” she added.
Asher-Smith, meanwhile, had seen her own individual medal hopes in Tokyo dashed by a hamstring injury, but insists those issues are behind her and thrilled a typically boisterous home crowd with her success.
The Blackheath and Bromley athlete had already made her seasonal 200m reappearance in Doha last week, where she finished third behind Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson and Gabby Thomas of the United States, but the 26-year-old reversed form with the two to take a narrow victory in 11.11, beating Jackson by a hundredth of a second, with British teammate Daryl Neita third in 11.14. Asher-Smith and Neita returned to team up with Beth Dobbin and Imani-Lara Lansiquot in the final event of the meeting as Great Britain won the women’s 4x100m relay.
There was a fifth British success in the afternoon as local boy Matthew Hudson-Smith won the men’s 400m, having returned to form this season with his best run of performances since 2018.
“That’s it for me this year,” he said. “It’s my home town, my club, a new stadium and a home league so I really want this to be my year. Everything is falling into place so I’m really happy.
“I needed a change and I’m with a new coach and I’m training in a new environment in the United States and I’m training with the Olympic and Commonwealth champion [Steven Gardiner].
“I always thought I could come back, but it’s great to prove it.”
The third of the British middle-distance medalists from Tokyo, Josh Kerr, who won bronze in the 1,500m, was also in action in what was a rare UK outing for the New Mexico-based athlete, but could only finish fifth as the Kenyan Abel Kipsang confirmed his fine form at the start of the season. , confirming last week’s victory in Doha with a second consecutive victory, while Olympic bronze medalist Holly Bradshaw withdrew from the women’s pole vault competition without registering a clearance after three failures at her height. opening of 4.45 m.