ritain’s Tokyo middle-distance heroes Laura Muir and Keely Hodgkinson put winter injuries behind them as they returned to home soil and began their potentially landmark outdoor campaigns with encouraging victories at Saturday’s Birmingham Diamond League.
Hodgkinson and Muir won Olympic silver in the 800m and 1500m, respectively, last summer and both lived up to headline billing at the first major athletics event held at the newly-rebuilt Alexander Stadium, where Dina Asher-Smith also picked up her first victory of the outdoor season in the 100m.
The venue will host this year’s Commonwealth Games, which are sandwiched between world and European Championships in a huge summer for British athletes, and while tougher tests lie ahead – namely in trying to bridge the gap to their Olympic conquers, Athing Mu and Faith Kipyegon – for Hodgkinson in particular, this was a statement success.
The 20-year-old smashed the British indoor record in Birmingham back in February before a quad injury forced her to pull out of the World Indoor Championships, where she would have been favourite for gold.
However, on an afternoon when quick times were otherwise hard to come by, the British record-holder proved her form with the fastest season-opener of her short career, romping clear of France’s Renelle Lamote and Jamaica’s Natoya Goule to win by almost a second in 1:58.63, the fourth-fastest run in the world so far this year.
“It’s definitely an improvement from last year but I just think the bar’s been raised so much this year,” she said. “Having run 1.55 last year [in the Olympic final], my aim this year is to be running 1.58s, 1.57s, 1.56s consistently. I want to be up there in the Diamond Leagues, not coming fourth or fifth. So as much as championships are where it’s at, I want to be more consistent throughout the year.”
Muir had also been forced to abandon her indoor plans due to what she initially thought to be a back injury, but the 29-year-old revealed she had actually been suffering from a “stress response to the femur”, which forced her to miss two months of running.
“It’s the most significant injury I’ve ever had. I don’t think I’ve had that long a break since I started running at 11 or 12 years old,” said Muir, who went well clear of the field with Jessica Hull in pursuit before kicking away from the Australian to win in 4:02.81.
“I didn’t even think I’d be running here today so not just to be running but to be competitive and winning, I’m very happy.”
Both the Scot, who claimed she is “90 to 95 per cent” fit, and Hodgkinson will now head to the US for next weekend’s star-studded Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field, where they face rematches with Kipyegon and Mu, respectively.
The historic Oregon track, which like Alexander Stadium has had a major recent facelift, will host the World Championships later this year, where Muir will be seeking a second global outdoor medal after breaking her duck in Tokyo.
“At the start of the injury I was a bit unsure what I’d 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 wrecked by a hamstring injury, but insists those problems are behind her and delighted a typically noisy home crowd with her success.
The Blackheath and Bromley athlete had already made her seasonal reappearance over 200m in Doha last week, where she finished third behind Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson and Gabby Thomas of the USA, but the 26-year-old reversed form with both to take a narrow victory in 11.11, beating Jackson by one-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 meeting’s final event as Britain won the women’s 4x100m relay.
There was a fifth British success on the afternoon as local lad Matthew Hudson-Smith took victory in the men’s 400m, having returned to form this season with his best run of performances since 2018.
“It is everything for me this year,” he said. “It is my home town, my club, a new stadium and a home champs so I really want it to be my year. Everything is coming together so I am really happy.
“I needed to change and I am with a new coach and training in a new environment in the US and training with the Olympic and Commonwealth champion [Steven Gardiner].
“I always thought I could come back but it is great to actually prove it.”
The third of Britain’s Tokyo middle-distance medallists Josh Kerr, who won 1500m bronze, was also in action in what was a rare UK outing for the New Mexico-based athlete but could only finish fifth as Kenya’s Abel Kipsang confirmed his fine early season form, backing up last week’s win in Doha with a second successive victory, while Olympic bronze medallist Holly Bradshaw crashed out of the women’s pole vault competition without registering a clearance after three failures at her opening height of 4.45m.