Jake Wightman competed in three outdoor Championships in 2022. At the Worlds in July, he took gold in the 1,500 meters, at the Commonwealth Games in early August, Jake took third in the 1,500 meters, holding the lead until the last fifty meters, and in the European Championships, Jake took silver in the 800 meters. Stuart Weir wrote this piece on the last championship of 2022 about Jake Wightman’s battle over 800 meters and what it suggests for Jake’s future competitions in global championships.
Jake Wightman recalls the European Championships
After unexpectedly winning the World Championship in Oregon at 1500m and then coming third in the Commonwealth Championships, again at 1500, Jake still had the European Championships in Munich to go. This time there was no choice to make; he was always going to run the 800m. “That was the plan. It could have looked as if I was trying to duck running against Jakob in the 1500 but I had always planned that so I ran the 800 at Birmingham [UK trials] to try to justify my selection. But I wasn’t sure that I’d done it because Birmingham wasn’t quick but I had beaten one or two of the Brits, head-to-head. And I thought that I had shown in the 1500 that I could go over to champs and compete. It was a relief to be picked because I probably wouldn’t have gone to the Europeans for the 1500. By the Commies, I was sick of running 1500s so I probably wouldn’t have the length of the season I did. But running 800 was a new lease of life for me. I think only Laura Muir and Neil Gourley did 1500 at three champs. That is so hard to do – three champs at 1500, only a week apart. Mentally it is so hard, seven or eight races over the same distance”.
The 800m at the European Championships in the 1972 Olympic stadium in Munich required 3 races in four days. He won his heat in 1:45.94. He qualified for the final by running 1:46.61 for second place in the semi-final but was none too impressed with his performance
“We watched the first semi and I think it was slow so we knew what he needed to do but everyone had seen it and everyone was wanting to do the same thing and wanting the same positions. It was horrible and I think that both I and Ben Pattison put ourselves in bad positions with 200 to go and had to do a lot more work than we should’ve had to. You get away with that at Europeans but if it had been a world semi you would have been knocked straight out. So it scared me and made me realize that I have to get better to be able potentially to afford those mistakes”.
Jake made an interesting point about his 800m final at Munich, that most of the 800s he runs are paced, Diamond League races where you know in advance what kind of time you need to be competitive. A championship race with no pacemaker is completely different.
“I didn’t run the Munich final as well as I should have. A lot of it was just not having raced that style of 800 because I’ve never done a championship 800. You can’t make as many mistakes but [in paced races] you don’t have to run wide or think about when you’re going to kick, you just follow the race around and everyone is in the same boat with 200 to go. I have learned that in [championship] 800s you have to be perfect. In the 1500s you can make a little mistake because we’re not running at the same pace and not at the same level of fatigue so you can usually get away with it. At Munich I found myself in a position where I had to go wide around the last two bends, otherwise, I couldn’t have gotten close enough to challenge for the win, and by the time I hit the home straight, I had spent too much to get to that position. I prefer to come into the home straight in the lead because if you’re coming from behind with everyone full of lactic and tired it’s hard to get that much quicker than the person in front. And that was the case because I closed the gap on Garcia to a point but I could never get past him.
I went to Brussels a couple weeks later and ran much, much better [winning the Memorial van Damme in 1:43.65]. As a result, I feel I could have better 800 champs in the future if I chose to do it because it was a big eye-opener to see how good you’ve got to be and also how tough the rounds are because there’s no scope for mistakes in the heats and semis to get through. In the 1500, I feel that I can be running at 90% and get through to the final easily whereas in the 800 I need to be at my best to guarantee to get through”.
The result in Munich was
1 Mariano Garcia (Spain) 1.44.85
2 Jake Wightman (GB) 1.44.91
3 Mark English (Ireland) 1:45.19
Despite Jake’s caveats, it was a brilliant performance to come second in Europe 0.06 seconds behind Garcia who had to run a PR to win. It was a good enough result to make Jake contemplate doubling up at a Championship some time.