By ELLIOTT DENMAN
LONDON - Oh, this can be a cruel sport.
Just ask Laura Muir.
For background, the home team - Team GB - has been trying to match Mo Farah's Friday night 10,000-meter gold - for the three days since. In the women's 1500-meter final - the capper of another sizzling day of action at the IAAF's 16th World Track and Field Championships - the script seemed to have been written with Muir in mind.
Yes-yes-yes, Monday was scheduled to be Muir's Day.
Confirmation for this came from high places.
Dame Kelly Holmes -the toast of this town and every other hamlet in the United Kingdom after running to double gold (800 and 1500 meters at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games) - said as much.
Now a tabloid journalist, Dame Kelly, in an Evening Standard story headlined "Muir has won the mind games, now for the gold, wrote , "I have no doubt she can be world champion."
She'd settled for seventh in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic 1500 final, seeing her medal hopes slip away after running with the leaders through 1400.
"It's done her good not to medal in Rio," theorized Dame Kelly.
That lapse will give her "that extra push" for this one, went the story line..
Dame Kelly's conclusion: "She'll be the athlete to beat over the 1500."
No less a personage than Lord Sebastian Coe himself - the IAAF president now, just as he'd presided over the 2012 London Olympic Games, just as he'd lorded over the men's Olympic finals of 1980 and 1984 - couldn't be restrained from putting in his two shillings' worth. Oops, correction, please. Gold medals here are worth $60,000. American. And a lifetime to follow with the eptithet "world champion."
On the front page of that same Evening Standard, Lord Seb wrote, "I don't want for a moment to jinx Laura Muir in tonight's 1500 but I absolutely think that there's a medal, and that she can win the whole thing."
Well, as events transpired, both Dame Kelly and Lord Seb were correct.
At least three or four times, as Laura Muir - who'd battled back from early-season injuries - ran her heart and soul out in a race as classic as any you'll ever want to see.
Wasting no time, Muir "took it out" in just over 65 seconds. The second-lap pace lag as all involved battled for position for the closing sprints that everyone in the stadium knew was to come.
At 800 meters - a slowish 72-second later - it was Muir still out front.
Caster Semenya, Faith Kipyegon, Laura Muir and Jenny Simpson, photo by PhotoRun.net
And now the real race was on.
The 2017 World leader, Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands (formerly of Ethiopia, now coached by Alberto Salazar) now pushed it through 1200 in just under 3:19 (a 62 lap) and it was every woman in it for herself.
As Hassan began to wilt, Kenya's Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon began flooring it.
Muir tried flooring it, too, but really couldn't.
As the finish line approached, Hassan was still in the medal mix.
But here came USA's Jenny Simpson from seemingly nowhere.
And, with her Worlds of experience, the Coloradan never learned the word "quit."
She'd won the Worlds back in 2011 (at Daegu), run second in 2013 (Moscow) but faded to 11th in 2015 (Beijing.)
There was no fading now, Jenny.
She slipped by Hassan on the inside and now had a run at Kipyegon.
Until the Kenyan got to the line with all of 17/100ths of a second to spare.
The clocks said 4:02.59 for the gold, 4:02.76 for silver.
But Muir was still in third, as that finish line neared...and neared..
A few more desperate strides and Team GB, the gallant and gracious host at a Worlds already breaking all previous meet attendance records, would have had itself the bronze that would have represented so much to its citizenry.
But, seemingly out of nowhere, South Africa's Caster Semenza showed greater desperation yet.
To some in the stands, she seemed to shoulder her way just past Muir in those final strides.
At the very least, she inched past with an absolute minimum of clearance.
It became a matter of momentum, and Semenza had just enough of it to get home in third.
The beleaguered South African (for a host of other reasons, just google it all) crossed the line in 4:02.90, Muir in 4:02.97, with the truly-fading Hassan (the 2017 world leader with her 3:56.14) now fifth.
Laura Muir had run with guts and gallantry.
But, carrying her nation's hopes on her shoulders, along with the expectations of Dame Kelly and Lord Seb, she fell oh-so-barely short.
Seven one-hundredths of a second, to put it precisely.
Hassan settled for fifth in 4:03.34 in a race that could easily have gone in several other directions.
"I thank God today," said Kipyegon when she'd caught her breath.
"I'm looking forward to celebrating this with my family."
"My coach has been telling me all day, 'Be willing to run your guts out and you'll be great', so I did exactly what she did, " said Simpson. " The last 300 meters in particular I ran my guts out and it paid off.
"Having the experience is huge because having the ability to stay calm is so hard, especially at the World Championships when you're racing in a beautiful stadium like this. To come out with a medal, I think it was down to keeping my wits about me."
"I'm really happy with the bronze," said Semenya. "Obviously, a lot can not go your way in a final , so to come out with a bronze is amazing."
And then it was Muir's turn to explain what happened...and what did not."
"What can I say? I gave it everything I had but ran out of energy in the last 50 meters as they came past.
"I knew it was close. Everything happened so late in the race so I couldn't react.
"I was so close... to getting a medal."
But not close enough.
And what did they say in the Tuesday Evening Standard, in the Lord Coe column headlined
"Brave Laura could have made her rivals panic."
"For me, she is still a star of this sport who will go on to be a bigger one," he wrote.
Laura Muir gets another run at a medal in the 5000 meters (prelims Thursday, final Sunday night.)
Her nation will be counting on more for Muir.