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Jake Wightman wins much-anticipated 1500m showdown

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Published in Athletics
Saturday, 25 June 2022 12:55
The 27-year-old beats Neil Gourley and Josh Kerr to the British title in Manchester and promises there’s more to come at the World Champs in Eugene

After finishing a disappointed 10th in the Olympic 1500m final in Tokyo, Jake Wightman went into his winter’s training determined to work more on his stamina. With a number of 1:44 clockings for 800m under his belt, he knew his speed was good. His endurance, though, needed attention.

The 27-year-old threw himself into a gruelling period of work and swallowed humble pie by jumping into 3000m indoor races. They didn’t go brilliantly at the time but the fruits of his labour are showing now.

In Manchester on Saturday (June 25) at the Müller UK Athletics Championships he burst past long-time leader Josh Kerr and Neil Gourley with 200m to go and then held on to pole position in the home straight to win gold in 3:40.26 as Gourley ran 3:40.38 and Kerr 3:40.63 – just three hundredths of a second ahead of Heyward.

After two silvers and three bronze medals during a decade of racing at the national championships, this was Wightman’s first-ever British title. With Gourley finishing runner-up and Kerr narrowly holding off Jake Heyward for third, it means Scotland took their fourth clean sweep of the medals in this event in the past six years.

In the 2021 championships, Kerr narrowly beat Wightman in a thrilling race. Here the showdown was just as exciting albeit not quite as close as Wightman emerged the emphatic winner.

It means Britain will send a super-strong team to the World Championships in Eugene next month. All of the men knew as well that it would be foolish to peak for the UK Championships, too. They realise that if they want to win the biggest prizes – global medals – then they must play the long game. Wightman, therefore, told AW he resisted the temptation to do too much sharpening work in training.

Fine judgement is needed. The athletes needed to be fit and sharp enough to qualify but at the same time saving their absolute best for Eugene.

“The main aim over the winter was to get strong,” said Wightman. “I was a good 800m and 1500m runner but shocking over 3km and 5km, which led me to struggle in Tokyo, I think.

“And one of the hardest things now is coming into these championships at 90% because we obviously want to be at our best in Oregon. I try to do this every year and so in the past every time when I’ve not won it, I’ve been content that I’ve made the team and am not yet in my best shape. So to win this year when I know I’m not in my best shape is a real confidence booster.”

Wightman will now head to Colorado to prepare for the World Championships, but Gourley and Kerr will also dive back into training with Eugene the goal. Gourley claimed automatic selection in Manchester but it’s hard to see the selectors overlooking Kerr given that he made the Olympic podium last year and also seems to thrive in races that are hard from the gun. The talented Heyward, meanwhile, will focus on the Commonwealth Games for Wales.

“A massive relief. These championships are stressful but that’s the standard of these races,” said Gourley. “Someone very good was going to miss out and that ramps up the pressure.”

“It is disappointing not to retain the championship,” said Kerr, “but all three of the Scottish guys ran so well. To have a Scottish top three is amazing.”

Elsewhere in men’s endurance races on Saturday, the steeplechasers made light of the blowy conditions as Phil Norman set an honest pace before Jamaine Coleman cut loose in the closing stages to win in 8:27.01 as Norman ran 8:28.86 in second and Zak Seddon third in 8:34.47.

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