Photo credit: British Athletics
Jemma Reekie is a track and field superstar in the making.
The middle distance runner has shot to prominence this indoor season, smashing three records in the last month. She also took 1500m victory in the Glasgow Indoor Grand Prix on Saturday and is a strong candidate to repeat the feat at the Indoor British Championships next weekend.
From seemingly nowhere – at least for those who aren’t regular athletics followers – this 21-year-old has fast become one of the nation’s most exciting sporting talents and looks set for a hugely successful career.
Yet the first story I saw following her win on Saturday was not one lauding her performance; instead it was one in which she’d had to deny that her recent upturn in form was down to her shoes.
It’s a sad indictment of the society we currently live in – and the history surrounding athletics – that we can’t simply celebrate an athlete’s achievements.
Instead it feels as though there is a constant need to find some form of scandal to discredit a performance, as though we no longer believe that a human is capable of pushing their body to the absolute maximum, running times faster than anyone else before, without cheating.
Fortunately, a broader search of Reekie’s name turned up a plethora of positive articles, ones that rightly applaud her success and talk about the European U23 double world champion in very positive terms.
Indeed this piece I saw is one of a small minority pedalling this angle. It’s just a shame that it comes from such a major source that will be seen by millions of people.
🇬🇧 Women’s mile record 4:17.88 for third in New York
🇬🇧 Women’s 1500m record after going through in 4:00.56
— British Athletics (@BritAthletics) February 8, 2020
The implication was that this ‘upturn in form’ from the Kilbarchan AAC runner could be attributed to the fact that she is wearing Nike’s Vaporfly shoes, which have been the topic of many debates in recent weeks.
A study by the New York Times, who analysed results from more than one million amateur races, suggested that runners who used the shoes set times 4-5% faster than they would in generic running shoes.
Both Eliud Kipchoege – who became the first athlete to run a sub-two hour marathon – and Brigid Kosgei, who broke the women’s marathon record in October, were wearing variations of the shoes when they achieved their extraordinary feats.
All of this has encouraged World Athletics (formerly the IAAF) to tighten their regulations surrounding the shoes, which will come into force in April.
And while Reekie is one of the athletes who wear the Vaporfly, there are two clear factors that explain just as easily – and more plausibly – her rapid improvement.
2020 has already been a spectacular year for @JemmaReekie 🙌
— British Athletics (@BritAthletics) February 15, 2020
The first one is her age. At 21, she’s still getting better as a runner. She is continuing to develop physically and still has a number of years left before she reaches the ‘prime age’ for middle distance athletes.
It’s therefore no surprise that she’s getting quicker. In fact, it would be worrying if she wasn’t.
Not only will she improve physically but Reekie and her coaches will also continue to learn about how to best prepare her for competition the more time they spend together. Already they have worked hard to optimise her diet and rectify sinus issues she was having last year and the results are immediately clear to see.
The second factor is that if you look into her history, these results are no surprise at all.
She won the 1500m title at the European U20 Championships back in 2017 before finishing third in the same event at the 2018 Athletics World Cup, less than two seconds behind winner Sofia Ennaoui of Poland who would claim European silver the following year.
Reekie then won the 800m and 1500m U23 European titles in Sweden last summer and represented GB at her first World Championships in Doha back in October.
While perhaps few would have predicted such an explosive start to the decade – breaking Laura Muir’s British 1500m and mile records while also running the world’s fastest indoor 800m time since 2006 – there can be no doubting the talent has always been there.
@JemmaReekie storms to a 1:57:91 800m clocking, the fastest indoors since 2006.
She now sits 11th on the world all-time list 🌍
— World Athletics (@WorldAthletics) February 3, 2020
Muir’s comments at the weekend about her fellow Scot and training partner were indicative of how much she respects Reekie but also showed how important it is to her that her training partner is treated properly at such an early stage in her career.
Speaking to The Guardian, Muir said that she believes Reekie is ‘capable of doing very, very special things’ but also made it clear she wants to ensure that she is able to enjoy her running and not have too much undue pressure put on her too early.
That should include not having to answer questions about whether or not her improvements are solely down to her trainers.
At the end of the day, she is doing nothing wrong. The trainers are currently legal, she is allowed to run in them. End of.
And, as we have stated, there are far more logical reasons.
We are just months away from Tokyo 2020 and, given her current form, Reekie could well find herself on the plane come July. Muir even believes they could win medals alongside each other.
For once, let’s not get bogged down in controversy.
We have one of the most exciting British athletes in decades emerging in front of our eyes. We should be relishing what is to come from Reekie, not looking for reasons to put her down before she’s even begun.