RRW: Stepping Down In Distance, Jake Wightman Hopes To Show His Range
By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2022 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
MÜNICH (14-Aug) — Two and one half years ago a reporter asked reigning world 1500m champion Jake Wightman if he was married to the 1500m while still dating the 800m. The Scotsman, now 28, liked that analogy. He told Race Results Weekly in January, 2020, that being an all-around middle distance runner was “something that’s been lost the last decade or so,” and that racing the 800 meters made him a more complete athlete.
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“I enjoy the 800’s a lot more than the fifteens,” he said. “I can do the 800 and not have the same expectations.”
But here in Münich, where the seven-day European Athletics Championships open tomorrow at Olympic Stadium, Wightman’s expectations have likely been raised after he won the world title in Eugene last month, beating Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen the reigning Olympic champion, and becoming a household name in Great Britain. After running nine high-level 1500m (or mile) races this outdoor season, including at the Commonwealth Games where he won the bronze medal for Scotland, rallying back for another championship 1500m was a non-starter.
“Even in March when we were planning the season out we knew it was going to be pretty tough to do fifteen worlds, fifteen Comms, fifteen Europeans,” Wightman told reporters at a press conference here today. He added: “Before Eugene I thought three championships was easy. Not easy. As soon as Eugene happened (it was) so tough to come back.”
Rebooting for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham was a challenge, Wightman said, but he relished representing Scotland which he only gets to do every four years. He was physically tired from three rounds at Worlds then an exhausting 1500m final at Commonwealths only 18 days later where he lost ground in the final 200 meters and had to settle for third behind Australia’s Oliver Hoare and Kenya’s Timothy Cheruiyot.
“My Commonwealths was probably the least enjoyable champs I’ve ever had,” he said.
But stepping down for the 800m, where he has a personal best of 1:44.18 from nearly two years ago, Wightman feels newly energized if a little fearful. He’s never raced in the 800m at a high-level championships.
“Coming here to do the 800 is just something I’m actually excited to do,” Wightman said. “I hope it will be all right. It’s an unknown. I’ve never actually done an 800 championship. I want to show I can be as competitive over eight as fifteen. I think if I were to do a fifteen here I wouldn’t have come. So, 800 meters is just a real re-fresh. I’m like, I’m actually looking forward to racing again.”
Of course fans would like to see a re-match between Ingebrigtsen and Wightman –the Norwegian is entered in both the 1500m and 5000m here– but that will have to wait. Wightman said it was never in the cards with the way this unprecedented “summer of championships” was set up.
“It’s the way it turned out,” Wightman said. “It’s not that I wanted to duck the fifteen, I wanted to try and see if I could compete over 800 because I still want to be considered an 800 meter runner as well, if I can.”
Wightman, who is only ranked 55th on time in the 800m among Europeans this outdoor season, may have an extra advantage here when compared to Eugene. His father and coach, Geoff, will not be acting as stadium announcer as he was in Eugene. Instead, he’s here as a dedicated British Athletics coach for his son.
“My dad’s not doing the announcing; he’s actually my coach here,” Wightman said. He added: “It’s unique because I’ve never had him in the warm-up area or around the hotel. I’ll see him a lot more than I’m used to.”
In the back of Wightman’s mind is the Scottish record for 800m of 1:43.88 set by Tom McKean back in 1989. Breaking that would be a terrific way to cap off his summer.
“We’ve had a pretty long-standing Scottish record over eight,” Wightman observed. “I hope… to do that over some point, so this season would be a nice one to round off.”
For next season, Wightman will begin his training with a huge advantage: he’s already qualified for next year’s World Athletics Championships as reigning champion. That will allow him to dabble a bit more in the 800m next season as he won’t have to run the longer event at the British trials. He’s already thinking about that.
“In Britain the depth is so strong over both eight and fifteen that you can’t miss the Trials at fifteen and run for eight which is what I would have to do,” he said. “The thing is that this year I have the wild card to go to the World Championships in the fifteen so I would love to try and see if I can test myself at the 800m at the trials in Britain next year. I’ve always wanted to run as many eights as fifteens, but the way my championships go I have to do the 1500 there. So that’s always the priority.”