Jemma Reekie’s transformation from ‘broken’ athlete to world championship silver medal

Jemma Reekie celebrates claiming world championship indoor silver
Jemma Reekie celebrates claiming world championship indoor silver - PA/Jane Barlow

By her own description, a year ago Jemma Reekie was “a broken, frazzled and terrified” athlete who feared that her best years were already in the past. On Sunday night, she was competing in a world final in front of an ecstatic home Glasgow crowd and collecting her very first medal in a global championships.

Yes, Reekie harboured very realistic hopes of standing on top of the podium, but her broad smile – and a double clenched trackside celebratory salute from her friend Laura Muir – confirmed that a world championship indoor silver in the 800 metres will do just nicely for now.

Any medal, said Reekie, would make up for her past succession of near misses on a global stage and represents a major stepping stone ahead of the Paris Games.

“I wanted nothing other than the win – they were just better than me,” said Reekie. “It’s good but it’s not good enough for me. I am not buzzing right now but, once I see my coach, he’ll tell me to be buzzing.

“If you had told me 12 months ago that I would walk away with a silver, I’d have been very happy. It’s taken an army to get me back to where I am today and I can’t thank them enough.”

In a high-calibre final, which included two Ethiopians, a Kenyan, a Ugandan and an athlete from Benin, Reekie had settled quickly behind the leaders before the pace slowed drastically after the first of four laps. Reekie opted to not surge to the front and instead waited for the race to be decided in a dramatic final lap. She duly moved up alongside Tsige Duguma on the back straight but the Ethopina’s pace was too much, with the 25-year-old Scot comfortably still holding off the fast-finishing Noelie Yarigo in third.

Reekie, who split from her long-time mentor Andy Young last March, had been told by new coaches Jon Bigg and Sally Gunnell that the first priority should be simply to start enjoying her running again. This had been achieved by the end of last summer, and the winter has been spent focussing on her short-distance speed in an effort to bridge the gap to Athing Mu, Keely Hodgkinson and Mary Moraa, the three favourites for Olympic gold this summer.

After golds from Josh Kerr and Molly Caudery on Saturday night, there was also a British bronze medal in the 4x400m women’s relay for the team of twin sisters, Laviai and Lina Nielsen, alongside Ama Pipi and Jessie Knight. With the Netherlands and the United States competing for the gold, the British team were locked in a battle for third with Jamaica until they dropped the baton on the third leg.

Laviai and Lina Nielsen helped Britain claim bronze in the 4x400m women's relay
Laviai and Lina Nielsen helped Britain claim bronze in the 4x400m women's relay - Shutterstock/Robert Perry

There had been a shock earlier in the evening when Noah Lyles, who is going for Olympic gold medals this summer in distances ranging from 100m all the way up to 400m, appeared in the 4x400m relay final for the USA.

He had sprinted to silver in the 60m on Friday night but believes that he can also justify his place in the USA Olympic 400m relay team. “It’s a long way – I hope he knows it’s two laps,” said Geoff Wightman, the stadium commentator at the surprise sight of Lyles.

It would prove to be a solid rather than spectacular performance from the sprint specialist, maintaining but not increasing the USA’s lead on the third leg before his team was overhauled by Belgium’s Alexander Doom on the anchor leg. Lyles’s 45.68sec split was third fastest of the four Americans.

Noah Lyles as the second changeover in the USA 4x400m relay team
Noah Lyles (left) was a surprise inclusion in the USA's 4x400m relay team - PA/Martin Rickett

Great Britain’s Josh Kerr has been another major fan favourite at these championships with his emphatic 3,000m gold on Saturday night in front of what he called a “bouncing” home crowd. He then soon found himself surrounded by journalists from Norway in the post-race interview area, who have become fascinated by his rivalry with their middle-distance star Jakob Ingebrigtsen.

Kerr inflicted a rare defeat on Ingebrigtsen when it mattered most last summer in the world outdoor championships and the pair have been engaged in something of a war of words ever since. With a second world championship gold in the space of seven months, Kerr was in exuberant form as he digested his win, describing himself as the “mailman” for his ability to deliver and a “sick boy” for his self-belief. “I was like a kid on Christmas with 200 metres to go – I was just waiting for my time and waiting for that 6am alarm to get up and open those presents,” said Kerr.

With the indoor season now at an end and some potential Diamond League head-to-heads looming, Kerr was noticeably more cautious in his thoughts about Ingebrigtsen.

“We train for hours and hours on our own and we finally want an outlet to explain ourselves,” said Kerr. “I’m a blabbermouth. I have a bit of an ego. We are just having fun. I don’t have anything against him. We are just two people who are trying to go after an Olympic title. There is no ill-will.

“It doesn’t matter who says what, these are going to make fantastic races. It’s going to make fantastic TV. I don’t think I am going to win them all but I will win the right one [at the Olympics] – that’s my goal.”

Caudery, who won pole vault gold just 35 minutes after Kerr’s victory, had barely slept before her final due to injury but believes that a new generation of British athletes are emerging.

Another new face is Georgia Bell, who arrived in the British team via the unconventional route of an impressive Parkrun last summer. It was enough to persuade her to make an athletics comeback and her vast improvement was confirmed with fourth place in the women’s 1500m.

Bell, who is normally in bed by 9pm so that she can train before starting her day job in cyber security, described the experience of racing in a first global final at 9.45pm as “crazy” and “definitely past my bedtime”.