Jake Wightman explains 800m switch as he targets third major medal of incredible summer
Having beaten Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen to win a sensational gold medal in the 1500 metres final at the Worlds in Oregon in July, Wightman landed a bronze over the same distance at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last week.
He has now flown to Munich for the European Championships but has switched disciplines and will race in the 800m at the Olympiastadion.
The first round is scheduled for Thursday, with the semi-finals the following day and the final on Sunday. It’s shaping up to be another busy week for the 28-year-old, who is confident the change down to two laps can re-energise him for the final leg of a gruelling schedule.
“Yeah, it’s crazy. It seemed like a better idea at the start of the season than in practice! It’s tough to keep going but Munich is a nice change in distance so that’s what I’m looking forward to the most.”
In between Birmingham and Munich, Wightman managed to squeeze in a cheeky Diamond League meeting in Monaco, winning the 1000m and beating his own Scottish record in the process. His time of 2min 13.88sec was the third fastest of all time by a Briton, behind Seb Coe and Steve Cram, and the Scot viewed the race as an important stepping stone as he switches from 1500m to 800m.
“I needed to do something because I hadn’t done an 800 since May,” he explained. “So it was a nice race between 1500 and 800 to get myself ready to start on Thursday over 800. After the Commies it feels like a new lease of life to go again over these short distances.”
Wightman’s decision to go in the 800m means there will be no rematch with Ingebrigtsen but it was always his intention to target the two-lap event in Germany. After the emotional high of his World Championship victory in Eugene, he admits he found it hard to go again in Birmingham.
“I was tempted to do the 800 at the Commies, rather than the 15 again,” he said. “Mentally, I didn’t really feel that I wanted to do a 15 again and I had to convince myself that I wanted to be on the start line for the 15 rather than the 8 to try and win a gold for Scotland.
“It was just tough to kind of get my head around it. It would be like the equivalent of a team winning the World Cup and then having to come back and do a Euros in a couple weeks’ time.”
Initial disappointment at winning bronze in Birmingham behind Australia’s Oliver Hoare and Kenya’s Timothy Cheruiyot gave way to immense pride.
“In hindsight it was almost a better achievement than the Worlds, to bounce back and do that,” he said.
“That was probably my most emotional point, finishing the Commies. I felt just drained. Since finishing in Birmingham I’ve felt a lot more relaxed just because I know that this is a new part of the season, over different distances. It’s really refreshing.”
It’s hardly surprising Wightman expounded so much emotional energy. HIs performance in Oregon saw him become the first Briton to win the World 1500m in 39 years, following in the spike marks of Cram’s victory in 1983. And, in what reads like a storyline from Boy’s Own or Tiger, he did it with his dad providing the commentary at Hayward Field.
Geoff Wightman is also his son’s coach and footage of him calling the race and embracing Jake’s mum Susan at the end soon went viral.
Both mum and dad were international marathon runners so Jake was immersed in athletics from an early age. He remembers going on a family holiday in Paris in 2003 to coincide with the World Championships and it was Geoff’s move into athletics administration that resulted in Jake representing Scotland.
Born in Nottingham, Jake was ten when his father was appointed chief executive of Scottish Athletics. The family moved to Edinburgh and it was here that Jake got the running bug, racing at Meadowbank and joining Edinburgh AC. He spent nine years in the capital before going to Loughborough University but he never lost his English accent.
“So you get everyone online saying he was born in England and has English parents so how can he run for Scotland?! But I feel like I’m an adopted Scot.
“I would never say I’m English or feel English at all. Scotland is always where I feel my home is, in Edinburgh.”
Along with Laura Muir, Eilish McColgan, Jemma Reekie, Josh Kerr and Neil Gourley, Wightman is part of a golden generation of middle distance and endurance runners and puts his success down to the Scottish system.
“We’re a way smaller pool of athletes in Scotland and coming up as a kid I was able to have a lot more success than I would have had down in England,” he said.
“I made Scottish schools teams and I could make finals at Scottish age-group champs whereas I would never have had the chance to do that in England because I wasn’t running quick enough and I was pretty underdeveloped. So I think it kept me in the sport.
“Scottish Athletics is great at nurturing us and giving us opportunities, and the club system was so good. At my club Edinburgh there was always a role model to look up to. I had Chris O’Hare who was a few years older than me and then Josh who was a few years younger than me, and Lynsey Sharp as well.
“We could aspire to be like them. And it’s the same now. They can see Scottish athletes doing well and they’ve grown up in the same environment and think ‘I’ve come through racing at Grangemouth and Meadowbank so why can’t I do the same?’”
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