Jake Wightman on “autopilot” as he aims for 800m glory at European Athletics Championships

The 1500m world champion is ready to rely on instinct and experience as he seeks to end whirlwind season in style

By Sean McAlister & Ash Tulloch
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

When Great Britain's Jake Wightman raced to glory in the men's 1500m final at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon, strategy was at the heart of his victory.

After a disappointing Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in 2021, where he finished 10th, the new world champion overhauled his schedule leading up to the Worlds to include indoor 3000m races and 5k training, with the aim of maintaining his strength throughout the rounds and reserve a final kick for the title-winning moments of the final.

The plan paid off handsomely as the 28-year-old beat pre-race favourite Jakob Ingebrigtsen to the line and secured the first major gold medal of his career.

A month later and with a Commonwealth Games bronze medal added to his trophy cabinet, Wightman will look to win 800m gold as he lines up in the European Athletics Championships in Munich.

But this time, the second-fastest British 1500m runner of all time will be relying on something other than carefully-crafted strategy to see him through to glory.

This time it’s about instinct.

“A lot of it is kind of autopilot,” Wightman said in an exclusive interview with Olympics.com just days before he begins his campaign on Thursday (18 August) in Munich. “You get into a zone where you’re not really making decisions, you’re just reacting to stuff without thinking.

“I’m 28, so a lot of it comes from making mistakes when I was younger. So the more mistakes you make, you learn to never do it again. So I’ve come to the point now where I race, especially in the 1500s, and I know that I shouldn’t really make that many mistakes.

“And if I don’t make mistakes, I can potentially have a great outcome from it.”

READ MORE: Jake Wightman: “I don’t think we’ll really know how good this era is until it’s done”

Jake Wightman wins 1500m gold at World Athletics Championships 
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

Wightman rising up for one last 2022 challenge

From a pure sporting viewpoint, not everything has been easy for Wightman following the glorious evening in Oregon where he blazed to gold in front of a shocked but jubilant Hayward Field crowd.

Before the sweetness of that victory had settled, he was on the plane over to Birmingham, England for the Commonwealth Games.

It left the newly-crowned world champion struggling to push himself to go again after his biggest goal of the year had been emphatically achieved.

“Mentally, it’s been a lot tougher than I thought,” said Wightman. “I thought that doing three champs, you’re racing rather than training, that’s like the easy bit.

“But coming off such a high as I had in Eugene at World Champs, my next champs was Commonwealths so soon after, and that was the toughest by far, racing the same distance with the expectation of winning it.”

But these 800m races in Munich will be different, for an athlete who views himself as a “middle-distance runner” rather than being tied to any one specific distance.

“Running 800 is like a new distance, there’s no expectation really on me and I look forward to actually having fun and enjoying Munich and the champs as much as I can do.”

Dad Geoff in his corner rather than the stands

One of the highlights of the World Championships in Oregon was the sight of Jake’s father Geoff emotionally commentating on his son’s victory from the stands.

As a stadium announcer for many of the biggest championships across the globe, Geoff, who is also Jake’s coach, is often sat thousands of people away from his son when he runs the most important races of his life.

But this time, Wightman senior, a former marathon runner who also raced for Great Britain in the Commonwealth Games, will be at Jake’s side as he seeks to end an impressive season with a third medal in as many championships.

“I have him in the warm-up area, around the hotel with the GB team rather than up in the stands, because I never get to speak to him or see him, so hopefully that helps,” the younger Wightman explained, before adding with a smile: “I’m not really sure how it will be, because I’m so unused to it, so hopefully he doesn’t get on my nerves by talking to me too much and announcing at me rather than the stadium.”

Ending the season on a fast note

While many would forgive Wightman for easing off after his World Championship title, his recent performances mean expectation is high that he can turn his phenomenal form this season into an 800m medal at the European Athletics Championships.

On 10th August, the Scottish athlete proved he still has immense speed in his legs when he soared to an impressive 1000m victory at the Diamond League in Monaco.

Not only did he beat numerous established 800m runners during the non-Olympic distance race, he also took over two and a half seconds off his own Scottish record while setting the ninth fastest 1000m time in history with a mark of 2:13.88.

With one more push needed before he can let this whirlwind year “sink in”, Wightman will be hoping his experience shows when it matters most in Munich.

“It’s just minimising the amount of mistakes you make and taking as little risks as possible to get through [the rounds] safely,” he said.

“And again, trying to go and relax and operate on autopilot so that I can just navigate without too many problems.”

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