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Running great Yvonne Murray waited four Commonwealth Games to enjoy a golden moment

YVONNE Murray's matching set of gold, silver and bronze medals in the Commonwealth Games and the European Championships indoors and out, has never been equalled by any Scottish athlete.

Yvonne Murray celebrates as she crosses the line to win the 10,000 metres at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria. Picture: PA
Yvonne Murray celebrates as she crosses the line to win the 10,000 metres at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria. Picture: PA

Her trophy cabinet also includes Olympic 3000 metres bronze and world indoor gold, two World Cup golds and two European Cup silvers and a bronze. Her career embraced a remarkable catalogue of Scottish, UK and Commonwealth records and titles. She ran a UK best for 2000m in 1994. It still stands: the second fastest in the world. In 14 consecutive years Murray never failed to reach a major final.

Her favourite title? "That's easy," she says: "Mum."

Now Yvonne Murray-Mooney, she and husband Tommy have a 13-year-old daughter, Laura, and it was a proud moment as they watched her wear her mum's Commonwealth 10,000m gold medal as she ran in the Queen's Baton Relay through Musselburgh, where her mum was brought up.

Within days, Yvonne was applauding another benchmark performance: Laura Muir writing out the 27-year-old Scottish 1500m record which Murray herself set in Oslo. She is excited at Scotland's improving medal prospects for Hampden, but reminds us that she had "a long wait before striking gold in my fourth Games".

She was a 17-year-old Musselburgh Grammar pupil with text books in her luggage when she went to her first: Brisbane, 1982. On her 18th birthday she finished 10th in the 3000m. "I was instructed by Meg Ritchie on no account to utter a word to anyone that she was my PE teacher! Meg won the discus, and the memory of her on the winner's rostrum with the gold medal, and Scotland the Brave playing, inspired me."

One of the most memorable features of a glittering career was her rivalry with Liz Lynch, as she was known when they first rubbed elbows. "We'd been rivals since we were schoolgirls," said Yvonne, "and I have always had great respect for her. I would not say that we have been the best of friends - when we competed, especially in the late 1980s and '90s, we were fierce rivals and took no prisoners. We would bring out the best in each other as we both wanted to be queen bee in our own back yard."

A classic example was the Scottish record to which Muir has just fallen heir. On Oslo's Bislett track, Murray edged her rival by just 0.18 of a second.

"I remember a sharp-elbows episode, from the Aberdeen 5k in 1993. Liz called a press conference afterwards, complaining that I ran too close to her, with claims that my coach, Tommy Boyle, had instructed me to 'get inside her vest!'

"It's amazing to look back, and appreciate just how good we both were and the great things we achieved. We both had similar backgrounds: came from large families, lived in council houses and didn't have a lot of money. However, we both had a dream and a tremendous desire to be the best in our events and achieve our goals. Hopefully up-and-coming young athletes can use our achievements to inspire them in future."

Their rivalry did not prevent them sharing a joke, and the same pair of trousers. The Scottish team kit for the Auckland Games might have been made by Black's of Greenock, the tent-makers. "Both Liz and I managed to get inside one leg of the wet-suit trousers! There's a photo to prove it!"

Murray was just 14 when deep snow disrupted school hockey. She joined the cross -country group to keep fit and her talent was immediately spotted by biology teacher Bill Gentleman. Barely a month later, she finished 28th in Scotland's age group cross country championships.

"I ran in smooth, plastic-soled shoes as I could not afford a pair of spikes," she recalls. "I wasn't put off by the result. It made me hungrier for success. One of the first prizes that I can remember winning in a club race was a Chunky Chicken, which was well received by the family as Sunday dinner! Amazingly, after just three years in the sport, I became Scottish and British Schools champion."

Her teen prodigy became so predictable that Gentleman would stand trackside with a Scottish record form already completed; only the time remained to be filled in. The match set of European indoor medals was under his wing, and she acknowledges they were "a great stepping stone". Before the 1986 Games she had also notched a victory over Zola Budd.

Edinburgh proved too much for her, however. Overtaken in the home straight, she had to accept bronze. "I guess the pressure got to me," she says on reflection. "I struck too early . . . I was so disappointed. When Liz won the 10,000m gold which gave the Scottish crowd a home win, it made me envious."

European bronze just weeks later in Stuttgart, with a Scottish record, ahead of Budd and behind world 10k record holder Olga Bondarenko and Olympic 3000m champion Maricica Puica, seemed cold comfort. The time was 18 seconds quicker than she had run at Meadowbank.

Murray and Gentleman parted company early in 1987 when she moved in with her future husband in Motherwell, and into the coaching stable of Tommy Boyle, who was already famous for guiding the 1986 Commonwealth 800m silver medallist Tom McKean.

Boyle and the sprint coach Stuart Hogg added a cutting edge of speed to her armoury. That was what brought her 3000m bronze in Seoul, and then European gold at the same distance in Split where she struck 550 metres out and crossed the finish line "with lactate up to my bum". It was arguably the finest of several very fine hours in her career, given the quality of opposition in an era when doping was rife in Eastern Europe.

The field for her Commonwealth 10,000m gold in Victoria included the Olympic silver medallist Elana Meyer, and, when she won the world indoor crown in Toronto, it was by a record margin of 12 seconds: the biggest in the event's history. Her victims included the world record-holder Elly van Hulst and Lynn Jennings, a three-time world cross-country champion.

The coaching switch also let her experiment as a cook, she recalls. Boyle and Hogg, to distract her before the Auckland 3000m final, suggested she prepare dinner for them, plus McKean and Brian Whittle. "I went to the butcher to buy some mince and other ingredients for spaghetti bolognese. I cooked the meal but they complained that the mince was a bit gristly. After the final I went back to the butcher to complain. It turned out that he had two counters: one for normal sales and the other for dog food. I'd bought mince for dogs. Stuart was barking mad when I told him!"

That final, we believe, represents the best Commonwealth finish by Scottish athletes. Canada's Angela Chalmers won, with Murray second, her arch-rival [now Liz McColgan Nuttall] third, and Karen Macleod, from Skye, fourth.

Murray always wore her heart on her sleeve - she cried with joy over the podium success of her unwarrantedly-criticised training partner McKean when he finally claimed that elusive title - but she was the steeliest and most courageous of competitors.

Yvonne and Tommy are determined not to saddle their daughter with family athletics baggage. Laura plays guitar and piano, and mum and dad will be delighted at whatever future choices she makes. But, whisper it, without much training, Laura was second in her school cross country this year.

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