This is Stuart Weir’s interview with Jake Wightman, focused on the Commonwealth Games. How do you compete with the target on your back, as you have just won the World Championships? We will see Jake compete in the US on February 4, and RunBlogRun hopes to be there; also we love these pieces that Stuart Weir has done with Jake, Katie, and Laura Muir. Stuart has this wonderful ability to let you see how the athlete is thinking about the situation or competition. Thanks, Stuart!
Jake Wightman – Running as World Champion in the Commonwealth
I recently posted a story on Katie Nageotte winning the World Championship in Oregon in July and pulling the plug on her season – a totally understandable decision as she battled injury and mental exhaustion. When Jake Wightman won gold in Oregon, he still had two major championships to go in the craziest season ever for British athletes with a World Indoor and Outdoors, Commonwealth Games, and European Championships.
Jake left Oregon the day after the 1500m final and was back in the UK nine days before racing in Birmingham in the Commonwealth Games. As he trains a lot in Flagstaff, he is used to transatlantic flights and has his own ways of getting over jet lag. However, he found himself dealing with a pleasant and unexpected problem! “My biggest challenge wasn’t jetlag. It was by far coming off such a high – a bigger high than I ever expected – and then coming out and racing again nine days later. I still wanted to do the Commonwealth, but it was never going to be as big a thing as winning worlds. But I was going into the Commonwealth Games against guys in the same situation I was in worlds, feeling they had something to prove. Steve Vernon, [a GB team coach], had said to me before the world final, ‘you want to be the hunter rather than the hunted where you have a lot less to lose. And you can be the person who will surprise and attack people”. Going into Commies was the other way around with people who did not run well in Eugene, who were coming to Commonwealths seeking redemption as I did that in Eugene.
Then there was the question for the Commonwealth Games: should he run 800m or 1500m. It was not an easy decision. [Just to explain that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland completes in the Olympics, World and European Championships as one team, usually called Great Britain. But in the Commonwealths, there are separate England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland teams]. Jake would be running for Scotland. He explains the dilemma: “I always knew the Commonwealth 1500m would be difficult, and the quality of our event was that it was literally like a world final – minus Jakob and the Spanish. With so much depth.
There were lots of comments coming in about what I should do. I remember lying in bed after Oregon, not able to sleep, thinking, ‘this is going to be tough after worlds’ I spoke to Crammy [Steve Cram], who said, ‘why would you put yourself in a position where you could lose the 1500 because if you do the 800 you could win it but if it doesn’t go well, it doesn’t matter’. But then Seb Coe said the opposite: ‘why not try to win the 1500 and add another 1500 title to your collection?’ My dad (and coach) said that it was up to me, so there wasn’t much clear direction. And initially, I was quite content doing the 800, but as it got closer, I thought I wouldn’t want to be watching the 1500 and not be in it. Also, I wanted to do my best and try to get gold for Scotland, and the 1500 was definitely my best chance of a win. In the 800, I thought I could medal, but I wasn’t sure about the win but. I thought I was in good enough shape to win the 1500”. So that was the decision taken? Well, almost!
He arrived in England tending towards 1500m, took a few days to rest and recover, and then did a track session a few days before the Games. “I was thinking if that went well and I felt ready to run the 1500, then I would do it. The session went well, and I didn’t think twice about deciding to do the 1500. I feared going out to race because I thought I had a lot to lose at Commies, and I was trying to change that mindset to ‘nothing to lose and a lot to gain’. That was how I came to terms with it. It’s not like I was going to lose my world title, for no one could take that away, but it’s a chance to add Commonwealth to my World title. That was what sealed the deal and made me want to do it”.
In Oregon, he had run a PR to win in 3:29.23. In Birmingham, Oliver Hoare (Australia) won in 3:30.12, Timothy Cheruiyot (Kenya) was second in 3:30.21, and Jake was third in 3:30.53. (In Oregon, Cheruiyot (the 2019 World Champion) was sixth, and Hoare failed to make the final – just what Jake had feared – two underachievers in Oregon, determined to make amends in Birmingham.
But Jake was still positive about his efforts: “I’m still glad I tried. So a bronze medal at Commies was not what I wanted, but with hindsight, it was still hard to achieve, and I wasn’t anything like as mentally and physically ready for the Commonwealth Games as I was at worlds. So to be able to run against those guys and finished just a second outside might PB and get something from it is something that I am pretty proud of now”.
And he still had the European Championships to come.