Birmingham, England – Few athletes really know what Jake Wightman’s life has really been like over the past two weeks. The newly crowned world 1,500m champion has faced her own new pressure, and so she was soon given the phone number of former Olympic and Commonwealth 400m champion Christine Ohruogu, who passed on her knowledge and experiences. “You go from hunter to hunt,” he told her.
It wasn’t just his life on the track that was changing overnight. He was recently sitting outside a coffee shop, after returning home to be crowned men’s 1,500m world champion, when a woman stopped at his track. “Are you the guy to win that race?” He asked. When she said yes, in fact it was she who claimed one of the most shocking gold medal wins in British athletics history, she was delighted to hear: “Hey, well done.”
She was one of 15 or so people who stopped to say the same thing. They all heard the story of how the stadium’s announcer on the night, Geoff Whitman, is also his father and coach. He watched Geoff’s video in astonishment as he commented on the crowd about what was unfolding before him: that his son, 10th-place finisher at Tokyo 2020, had taken 200 to win his first major title. Made the last dart with meters remaining. Whitman went viral, while the story made international news.
And so, life changed for Wightman—temporarily, at least. People now stop in the street, or greet him at their local athletics track, or ask for his autograph at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, for which he became the last-minute poster boy. That last bit played on his mind.
Her work over the past two weeks has been to handle that pressure, channeling it and striving to become the first athlete to win world and Commonwealth 1,500m titles at the same time. It hasn’t been easy. At first, he seemed shy, saying that he feared the mental work it would take to compete in the event again, instead wishing to do the 800 meters. He wanted to celebrate his title. Her mother, Susan, said that she should do the 1,500 meters so that all her friends could see her running.
It didn’t take long to change his approach and set his sights on adding another 1,500m title before the Games: “I have motivation: ‘How much better can I do this summer?’ This is potentially a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
But what Ohruogu had predicted at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham on Saturday came true.
The men’s 1,500 Commonwealth Games final started the same way as Eugene’s last month. His father, Geoff, was again the stadium announcer – although this time he pitched him as world champion – and also fielded most of the last month’s strongest runners.
Whitman remained in the pack before making his move with the 250 metres, sitting fifth for the race. His legs shifted into a gear, moving faster and taking harder strides as Wightman quickly moved into the lead. It was then that the chase took place, when Whitman realized what it meant to aim at his back. Entering the final 100 metres, the Scottish runner was reeled first by Kenya’s Timothy Cheruiyot, and then by Australia’s Oliver Hoare, who eventually claimed the gold.
By the time Whitman reached the finish line, he was in bronze. It was an achievement, yet they felt proud, even if they were not pleased. Later a pack of journalists waited – longer than usual – to talk to Whitman and he uncovered everything.
“I didn’t want to do the 1,500 meters because I couldn’t cope with getting ready to do it and do it again to win it. I could have easily come out of that race with nothing… I got a Got bronze which is a relief considering my size,” he said.
“I would hate to be in the 800m or not run at all and watch the 1,500m. [from the sidelines] Thinking I would love to be in it for a shot at winning. I put it on the line, I put myself in a position where I could win it.”
His conversations with reporters continued, and he said that he would not run in the 1,500 meters again this season, tired of the grueling demands of it, saying instead that he would compete in the 800 meters for “a different kind of pressure”. will do. He has earned this right.
Then came a line he’s never said before, but has to think about for the next 12 months: “I hope I get shot for not winning as world champion,” he said.
In truth, it was just another sign that life had changed for Wightman.