Throwback Thursday: Yvonne Murray and “the finest hour in the history of Scottish Athletics”

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European gold medallist Yvonne Murray competing for Scotland. Picture: Edinburgh AC via Flickr

There were tears, there were cheers, it was a moment for the years.

As Scottish Athletics icon Yvonne Murray celebrates her 54th birthday, few can deny that her most iconic moment came at the European Championships 3000m final in 1990.

At that point Scotland were on a significant high. Despite the absence of Olympic medalist Liz McColgan, pregnant with daughter and future athlete Eilish, Scotland had yet more world class performers in their locker.

Scottish coach Tommy Boyle had put together a devastating duo of middle distance runners, coaching both Tom McKean and Yvonne Murray to World Cup gold medals and leaving them all set to go for the gold once again at the European Championships.

And once again McKean left all before him lying in his wake, leading the 800m all the way for another brave and impressive gold medal.

But rather than disappearing to celebrate his great victory, the new champion instead returned to track-side, standing to watch and roar on his training partner Murray as she prepared to do battle in the 3000m final.

Both knew what the other had gone through to get to this point and had both seen each other transition into truly world class runners.

However, there was still a huge sense of caution around Murray’s chances of winning at the time. The Commonwealth Games in January that year had seen her race tactics fell just short, after a long final spurt had back-fired and seen her miss out on gold to Canadian Angela Chalmers.

The 26-year-old certainly had the class to come back strong, but it was still only recently that she had began to establish herself as a top quality runner. 1988 was when she had officially announced herself to the whole world when she grabbed Olympic bronze in Seoul, while she also boasted a 3000m Scottish record of 8.29.02 and still does to this day.

But unlike the Commonwealth Games that year, Murray this time ran the European final with considerable caution, letting her British team-mate Alison Wyeth lead out the early stages while she sat back with the pack and bided her time.

With one kilometre to go, Murray was still waiting and probing, this time just on the shoulder her Italian opponent Roberta Brunet while the entire field remained locked together.

Then, almost out of nowhere, the long stand-off was over and the cannon was fired. With 600m to go, the Scot suddenly bolted ahead into the lead with a huge injection of pace that only the Soviet Union’s Yelena Romanova could try and compete with.

But as the bell sounded for the final lap, the gap was only getting larger, with Murray’s devastating kick now leaving her all-but certain to grab her first ever European gold. As they reached the home straight her lead began to shorten, but it was far too late by that point. The Olympic, World Cup and Commonwealth medalist now added a European gold to her list of accolades, breaking down in tears of joy when she crossed the line in first as her achievement began to quickly sink in.

Of all the victories that she had and would ever gather in her career, this would prove to be the most iconic. It capped off, as Brendan Foster then claimed, “the finest hour in the history of Scottish Athletics”, completing a superb Scottish double gold for her and McKean.

The impact of this victory was certainly felt outside of the track as well, with Murray also being awarded an MBE that year before she was officially inducted into the Scottish Sports hall of fame in 2007.

Now, 28 years since the 54-year-old’s night of glory in Split, Yugoslavia, the likes of Laura Muir, Eilish McColgan and Jake Wightman look to be once again bringing about a revival for Scottish middle and long distance running.

And while the future certainly looks bright for those young athletes, Yvonne Murray’s victory 18 years ago remains a career defining moment and a lasting symbol of a truly golden era for Scottish distance running.

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First published on: 4 October, 2018 11:58 am

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