This is part two of Stuart Weir’s end-of-the-year feature on Jake Wightman. Jake had a fantastic summer, taking the gold medal at the 1,500 meters in the World Championships, the bronze medalist at the 1,500 meters in the Commonwealth Games, and the silver medalist at the 800 meters in the European Athletics Outdoor Championships.
Stuart wrote this piece at the very end of the season.
“Jake Wightman is world champion, and he’s our son, and we coach him.”
Oregon could not have gone better for Jake Wightman. He was fourth and third in the prelim and semi, just doing enough. In the final, he was in a good position, and then with 200m to go, he made his move, passed Jakob Ingebrigtsen, went for the line, and managed to hold off the Norwegian favorite to win in 3:29.23. As he told me: “Throughout my whole time in Oregon, I was pretty calm.”
He said of his decision to go at 200m: “I didn’t really have anything to lose. I felt that no one had ever tried to challenge Jakob that way, so I thought that if I was at the bell, I would. And my way was to go past him at 200m and hopefully to hold on with my strength. But that is easy to say, and then hope you can do it, but actually pulling it off is something different. I had done it a few times during the season, so I knew that I would be strong enough if I got in that position. But being strong against everyone else is different from being strong against Jakob because he has shown that he’s the strongest to race against. I put him in an unfamiliar situation, and he will probably never let me do that again, so I need to think of other ways to beat him”.
I spoke to Geoff Wightman, coach to Jake, immediately after the race about the tactics, and he told me, “You have to cover the break. It is no use trying to kick against Jakob or Timothy Cheruiyot from three meters back. You have to be in a position where you can tap them on the shoulder. There was a point with 200 to go where I thought he was not getting past Ingebrigtsen, but he did. Jake is hard to beat over the last 150. You take chances, and sometimes they come off”.
Jake described the race from his perspective: “I always think that if I can hit the home straight in the lead, and I’ve not completely burned myself to get there, my biggest strength is my speed. I think that when I am fatigued, and everyone else is fatigued, my top-end speed is a little bit better. I don’t do as well when I’m coming from behind like in the Europeans [when he was second coming into the final straight and couldn’t quite catch Mariano Garcia]; when you come alongside someone and gauge yourself on them a little bit, I’d rather not be in that position.
“I’d rather run with blinkers solely focusing on how I’m running, coming into the straight with the lead. I try to put myself in that position as often as possible. And apart from the Commies [Commonwealth Games], it worked pretty well most of the season when I did come into the straight leading but didn’t have the strength. The trick is that I can still get myself in a position where I’m fit enough to get to the front by the home straight; there’s no reason why I still can’t do it, but I’ve got to be a lot fitter than I was last year because now there will be a lot of people who will try to run it out of me because they don’t want that to happen again”.
Going back to the headline, dad Geoff’s words as stadium announcer, Jake was slightly amused to find himself sharing the mixed zone with both his parents: “Dad can be someone who shows no emotions sometimes, so that comment – and the video Kathy Merry took – shows he did have that moment where it hit him too. Sometimes when he is up there, I never know if he’s so professional, stone cold, mike in hand that he’s not getting into the emotion of it. But he certainly did that day”.
He added that his mum “doesn’t really get the platform to speak like that. A lot of people are aware of my dad’s background in the sport but not my mum. Mum went to the Seoul Olympics and is as qualified to coach as my dad, and she comes and helps out at my sessions sometimes. She has played a big part in my upbringing in the sport because she was the PE teacher at my school. She used to take my cross-country lessons and has come to every race I’ve run. So she is probably as worthy as anyone to stand there and give an interview afterward”.