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Wightman’s 800m silver in Munich fuels middle distance double ambitions

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The mission in Munich, which world 1500m champion Jake Wightman decided to accept, was, in his own words: “To show I can be competitive over 800 metres as well as 1500 metres.” 

For all intents and purposes this mission was accomplished. Wightman won his third major medal of the season in the Bavarian capital, beaten only by the athlete who won gold at the World Athletics Indoor Championships in mid-March.

With a little more experience over this distance, it could be argued, the Brit might have won gold rather than silver. As it was, after running wide to extricate himself from the pack at the start of the finishing straight he pushed Spain’s world indoor champion Mariano Garcia all the way to the line, finishing second in 1:44.91 as the Spaniard won in a personal best of 1:44.85.  

Athletics - Day 11 - European Championships Munich 2022

By his own admission, Wightman ran a far from textbook semifinal which yielded Wightman an unfavourable inside lane in the final. Tactically the final was a lot better, albeit not perfect – but his ability and fitness allowed him to produce a final product that enabled him to complete a huge medal sweep in the space of just 33 days. 

“In every round I’ve learned a bit more,” Wightman said. “I hope I can race more 800 metres in championships, because I feel I've got some potential to go and do that on a global stage if I take a little bit more care towards it. 

“When you look at the days of Coe and Ovett in Moscow, to come out and run as well at an 800m as a 1500m – I’d love to be like that. And tonight is a big stepping stone towards it.” 

Before the championships began, Wightman had elaborated on his ambitions. 

“Coming here and doing an 800 metres is something I’m excited to do. I hope I can still do all right because I’ve never really had a chance to run an 800m at a championship before and I want to show I can be competitive over this distance as well as at 1500m

“Next year I get a wild card to go to the World Championships to do the 1500m, so I’d love to see if I can get into the British Trials in the 800m next year. I’ve always wanted to add the 800m to the 1500m, but the way my [British] championships go I have to do the 1500m there and that is always the priority.  

“I see myself as a middle distance athlete rather than just a 1500m athlete, the same way that some athletes are 1500m and 5000m guys.” 

Reflecting on his performance in the final, Wightman was, as ever, honest: “I had to come a little bit further round in the final 150 metres. I was jealous of Ben’s [Pattison] position because that’s where I wanted to be and I maybe had to work a little bit harder round the bend just to get alongside. 

“I knew that Mariano was going to be tough to beat in the straight because he’s very strong there, he’s world indoor champ, he’s got a pedigree of championship racing. But I knew I had a good chance to win it. I’m disappointed, but if you’d have said to me before you’ll come away with the silver, I’d have taken that. 

“But to do it in an event which I wouldn’t say is my strong event shows that I’ve been in good shape this season. 

“I learned from my semi because I thought that was pretty bad, how I ran it, and I was trying to get in better positions in the final, which I did. So I’m just glad we got something from that for Britain. 

“I think my biggest weakness is I don’t get out very quick compared to those guys and you always make up the ground. And the one thing I learned from racing is you don’t do that on the bends, and you don’t have as many straights to make it back up.  

“So you have got to have a very good first lap. I’m not saying my lanes were bad, but I found it tough to come out of lane one and, tonight, lane two to try and stop myself getting boxed in. 

“It was tough. You kind of know with 50 to go whether you are going to come past, and I knew that I couldn’t raise it any more, so I was just willing Mariano to come back. But he’s the world indoor champion and he’s done a lot of racing at this distance.” 

Wightman confirmed his plan to double up next year. “That performance tonight is kind of like a helping hand towards it to show that if I get picked I can perform at a Championships.  

“The 800 metres is fun, I think they’re fun to watch because you don’t bore people with four minutes of running, it’s only two. And it’s definitely more stressful mentally to get the positioning and tactics right, and I learned a lot from my running here,” he said. 

Asked about how he first started running 800m, he replied: “For me it goes back to being a kid. All the way through school I was doing 800s and 1500s, and at university. It’s just been that I’ve had to choose one, and it’s been the 1500m. The depth of British running over both distances means I haven’t been able to do 800m very often.” 

But this could very possibly be about to change.

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