This sport, it can be beautiful yet cruel. It can deliver the highest of highs, moments where you are – literally – on top of the world, but just as quickly it can take them away. Few know that better than Jake Wightman. Today it has been confirmed that, on the other side of eighteen months of setbacks, he is heading to Paris for his second Olympic Games – but not quite as expected. Jake spoke to James Rhodes about that bumpy road to Paris and what lies in store over 800m, rather than 1500m, in Paris.

“Jake’s got half a yard, he could become World Champion! He’s got to stay strong. He is going to do it!”

The words of Steve Cram, as Jake Wightman proved the impossible was possible to become the 1500m World Champion in Eugene. It was a race many, Wightman himself included, will never forget. It has been quite a rollercoaster since.

The story of last year, beset by injury after just one race in early January, does not need retelling. The recovery was underway, season opening races down under, the Olympic standard secured via a 3:47.83 mile in Eugene, plus a 1:44.10 clocking over 800m, which remains the UK lead. All was lining up to be ready for the challenge ahead in a competitive men’s 1500m at the British Championships.


The Return, Or Not

If only it was that easy. Pain after a session, which did not abate after a couple of days and treatment. A scan revealed a small tear in Jake’s right soleus. The Parisian dream, the redemption of Tokyo, suddenly in jeopardy.

You never think you’re going to get a problem at that time, but if I was to choose a week not to get hurt, it would’ve been that one. It was a good opportunity to get some more work in, ready for Paris rather than ready for the trials. I didn’t need to do anything to get ready for trials, everything was done. When I knew what the injury was, I had to be so careful not to make it worse”.

The risk for the rest of the season was too big, and a decision was made – in consultation with British Athletics – to miss the British Championships. A medical exemption was granted, allowing consideration for selection. That itself caused some controversy.

“I’ve seen people on social media thinking it was a conspiracy, but there was no way I did not want to be at those trials. The consequences were horrific potentially”.

Indeed, the outlook was pretty bleak on paper. The door to the 1500m was almost fully closed prior to any racing commencing. With Josh Kerr guaranteed a place by virtue of his world title, if the top-two finished in possession of the standard, there was no room on the team. With Neil Gourley, George Mills and Adam Fogg racing and in possession of the qualifying time, it seemed a near-impossibility.

The door was slightly more ajar in the 800m, however. Like Josh, Ben Pattison was guaranteed a place as a Budapest medallist. Dan Rowden, Elliot Giles and Max Burgin were to race with the standard.

Positive Thinking

Despite the potential of not going to Paris, Jake tried to remain as positive as possible.

“If Monday and the selection hadn’t gone the way I was hoping, I don’t know what I’d have done. I tried to not think about it [not being selected], the first time I thought about it was when I came back from a run in pain. I was like, ‘I’m not going, this is it’. The closer it got, the more I realised that actually I think I have a chance of getting picked for the 800m here. When I clung onto that, I thought just stay positive, that could happen” .

Jake didn’t watch what unfolded in Manchester “I was like, ‘what is the point in that?’. It’s not a nice thing to put yourself through. I got told the results, but I didn’t know what had happened”. Needless to say, it was eventful. Elliot Giles and Josh Kerr tangled in the home straight, both falling. Ben Pattison and Max Burgin took the top-two spots, leaving the third place up for grabs. With Dan Rowden going out in the heats, it was a likely choice between Giles and Wightman.

As with any selection, there are a lot of what ifs. Had Jake been able to run the 800m, would Giles be selected for the 800m? As he says, “it’s not a nice situation to be in. Having seen it, it’s not a nice way to make a team, potentially by somebody having an accident. I know who’s missed out, and it’s a mate”.

Photo: James Rhodes

Nothing New

It may not be the distance the running world expected to see, but it is not a complete change from the plan, as Jake wanted to double up in the 800m and 1500m. For the first time in a while, the Olympic timetable allows it, and discussions had been held on the possibility.

The way I’m looking at it now is, I would always have wanted to double. The timetable works for the first time. I am just glad to be able to go over one of them and show that I can hopefully perform well.

I’m looking forward to having five weeks now of getting ready to run. I’ve got the chance to be able to put my full focus into being as good over 800m as I can. I’ve always enjoyed running 800m more than 1500m, in all honesty. Maybe that’s because there’s been less pressure and I’ll have to have more pressure on myself going into the Olympic Games. I just really want to show that I can run well over this distance”.

It is not as if the 800m is a new or untested distance to Wightman, however. His 1:44.10 at the LA Grand Prix in May remains the fastest time by a British athlete in 2024 and is the joint second fastest of his career. Only his 1:43.65 when winning the 2022 Brussels Diamond League is quicker. He also raced over two laps at the European Championships (silver in 1:44.91) and Commonwealth Games (fourth in 1:46.39).

It puts a better perspective on my career if I can do something over 800m in this Olympics. I can say I wasn’t just a 1500m runner, I was an 800m runner as well. Maybe I’ll finally get the respect as an 800m runner!

Photo: James Rhodes

Clear Goals

Knowing the calibre of athlete(s) who won’t be in Paris, Jake’s goal is clear – to deliver his best performance when it matters. Alongside that, is getting to share the moment with friends and family, with not everyone able to make the trip to Eugene in 2022. His mum, former international athlete Susan, was in the stands, with dad Geoff famously on commentary. But the goals are of course beyond those present.

I believe I can medal over 800m. I believed that watching the 800m in Tokyo, I watched it and thought I’d have loved to be in that final because I felt like I could have had a good chance. Now I’ve got to put my money where my mouth is and see if I can actually do that. If you get to the final, you can have a very good chance of a medal, because nearly half the field get a medal. So if you look at it like that, the hardest bit is actually making the final.

When you’re getting picked with such good people left behind, you have to validate your selection”.

Final Preparations

The weeks ahead are important. Final touches in training, ensuring everything is as ready as it can be. The plan is clear.

I think the worse thing I could do is think I’ve got to become just an 800m runner in these next few weeks. I don’t, I just need to be a good version of myself that is ready to run over 800m. That means still doing the sessions I’d be doing normally but adding more 800-specific sessions once a week.

The main thing is I just need to make sure I don’t have any slip ups from here. It has to be a smooth road. Fortunately, my calf has healed pretty well. I have a scan next week to make sure it’s completely healed and I can then push on”.

Fingers crossed Jake’s road is smoother than it has been up to now. We might not be seeing him face Edinburgh AC clubmate Josh Kerr or Jakob Ingebrigtsen, but an exciting race over two laps awaits.

Photo: James Rhodes