A little more than a month ago in the Swedish town of Gavle, 21-year-old Jemma Reekie made history in becoming the first British athlete to win two individual gold medals at the European Athletics U23 Championships by storming to victories - with a fair degree of ease - in both the 800m and 1500m.
Guided by Andy Young in Glasgow and a training partner of five-time European champion Laura Muir and emerging Canadian Gabriela Debues-Stafford, Reekie negotiated four races in as many days to capture the continental middle distance double.
“The European under-23 champs were a huge target of mine this year - I love championship racing and it was exciting to race in my age group,” she said. “People asked ‘what if you risk too much and leave with nothing?.’ I kept quiet and thought ‘but what if I win both - how amazing would that be?’ Only Andy and myself know what I’m capable of - I knew he wouldn’t let me do it if he didn’t think I could.
“I just tried to stay out of trouble in the heats and stay relaxed. I recovered well mentally as well - I was sharing a room with one of my great friends Ellie Baker, who came second in the 800m - we both were able to shut off from racing and relax, laugh and watch plenty of TV together.
“For the finals, I knew from the second I walked on to that track I wasn’t going to be satisfied with anything but two golds. During the 800m, I ran my race plan completely different but I managed not to panic - I crossed the line in disbelief.
“I was looking forward to the 1500m the most so I was really excited to get racing - I ran my race exactly to plan and it worked out. The girls made it tough but I was so happy to cross the line first again. It was so special to have Andy there watching, I was so delighted to be the first ever British athlete to have done that as well. I honestly still can’t believe I won both - I am so so happy.”
Olympic 1500m standard already ticked off
Revealing that she skipped the post-event party and simply celebrated with ice cream and then brunch with her siblings back home, Reekie has enjoyed an impressive turn in form over the past two seasons.
With 2017 undoubtedly her breakthrough campaign and a year that “shaped her to be the athlete she is” - she boasted improvements of three and twelve seconds respectively over 800m and 1500m, in addition to capturing that first international medal in Grosseto where she won gold at the European U20 Championships over 1500m.
Reekie then went onto register no less than 13 personal bests in 2018 and qualified for the European Championships in Berlin where she donned a British in the 1500m alongside training partner Muir and two-time Olympic finalist Laura Weightman.
She began 2019 well during the indoor season with another flurry of lifetime bests and a title at the British Championships in Birmingham, but Reekie struggled at the European Athletics Indoor Championships in her hometown of Glasgow, failing to progress beyond the first round after suffering from the tail-end of an untimely cold.
However, outdoors - and prior to her title-winning performances in Gavle - she clocked a fine 2:01.45 800m and 4:05.82 1500m lifetime best in the build-up. Instead of resting on her laurels after Gavle, the double European U23 champion went on to record an impressive four-second 1500m personal best with 4:02.09 for seventh place at the IAAF Diamond League in London, less than a week after her gold medal-winning exploits.
“The London Stadium is amazing to say the least - every time I walk on the track, I feel so happy and ready to give it my best. My body was a bit tired when I raced but I’m satisfied with 4:02 and ecstatic to have ran the Olympic qualifying standard,” she said.
Having joined Young’s squad in 2015, Reekie is quick to praise the impact both her coach and training companions have had on her young career: “The group we have is large and can be as many as 16 of us - we train together three times a week and we believe nothing is impossible; we just all want to do what nobody has done before - Andy makes it feel limitless,” she explained.
“Running on the circuit has been a great learning curve and experience - it hasn’t phased me racing them because I line up against the best in the world [referring to Muir] in every session - you can’t get much better.”
Continuing on the subject of her illustrious training partner, who is five years her senior, Reekie revealed: “Laura and myself have became great friends throughout the years - we spend a lot of time together from being on camp to catching up in between training. I think watching Laura train and work so hard, it just rubbed off on me. I don’t know any different now, I just want it so bad.”
With two gold medals from Gavle and the Olympic standard ticked off, Reekie will contest the British Championships in Birmingham later this month with the goal of gaining selection to join Muir at the IAAF World Championships in Doha in September.
And if Doha arrives too soon for her first senior championship, 2020 represents an opportunity to make her Olympic debut. “Tokyo is a big aim of mine," she said. "I would absolutely love to be there. It would be a dream come true, I just have to keep doing what I am doing, working hard and anything can happen.
“I can be hard on myself but when I look back at what I’ve achieved at 21, I am like 'wow!' I sometimes have to take a minute and appreciate what I have done because I’m someone that is always looking to better myself straight away. If you had told me a couple years ago where I am now, I don’t think I’d believe it!”