IT was, quite literally, a flying visit. Jake Wightman woke in his Teddington home yesterday at around 4.45am, and by 6.30am he was on a flight bound for Glasgow. After a few interviews at Glasgow Airport check-in, to promote the partner airport’s involvement in this March’s European Indoor Athletics Championships, the likeable Commonwealth and European 1500m bronze medallist squeezed in a quick five-mile run on a treadmill at the Fire service’s on-site gym, before catching the 1.30pm flight back to Heathrow.
Then, as soon as he got back home, it was back to the gym to complete his training for the day. It was all a bit like an episode from that Tom Hanks film, The Terminal. “All I need is a treadmill – although I think there are a few nutty runners in the past who have probably run up and down a terminal, so if it came to that I could have done it,” he said. “If there was an opportunity to go round the runway that would be a bit more enticing but I think there are regulations against that somehow!”
Still playing catch-up on his training following a minor toe problem, and soon to jet out to foreign climes on warm-weather training, this was Wightman’s only visit to Scotland before Christmas, which means he won’t personally be attending Saturday night’s FPSG scottishathletics Annual Awards dinner, for which The Herald are media partners, and he is nominated for athlete of the year alongside Laura Muir, Eilidh Doyle, Charlotte Morgan and Robbie Simpson.
While he is happy to make himself available by video link to accept the prize, Wightman feels that the top award is likely to go the way of Muir, with whom he recently shared the male and female British Milers’ Club athlete of the year awards.
“I think I know who is going to win it, hopefully,” said Wightman. “And I would be very shocked if that wasn’t the case. But if they wanted to do something with me by live video link I would be happy! It is nice to give back to scottishathletics because they have been really good to us.”
It is a feather in Wightman’s cap that he should find himself following closely in Muir’s slipstream on the world stage throughout 2018.
The reward he gave himself for a breakthrough year which saw him collect the first two major medals of his career, both of them bronze, was the best part of three weeks on holiday.
After a delayed stretch of unwind time with university pals in Barcelona and Majorca, came a four-day stint in Las Vegas. Wightman had no problem letting his hair down, even if by the time Vegas came round his playtime was over and he was back working to the strict practice guidelines of his coach and father Geoff.
“I’ve been on holiday – and lost everything I had gained that previous year probably, fitness wise!” says Wightman. “But I still think I needed that mentally and physically. What was my first day back like? My heart rate went up to 209, and usually it doesn’t go anywhere above 200. I was sweating buckets too. Vegas was a bit of an awkward one . . . I remember doing a session just up from the strip at 6am, just as people were stumbling in from nights out. I remember thinking ‘of all the places I could be doing this, this is probably the most tragic by far’.”
While Muir spends her downtime obsessing with her veterinary studies and indulging her love of animals, Wightman is blessed with the kind of agile mind which once saw him perfect for inputting times on stat-heavy athletics website Powerof10 and invest in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.
A fascination for playing the odds, you might say, which isn’t ideal when let loose in the gambling mecca of the world. “I play the outside of the board in roulette because I’m a bit of a wuss so I think I probably only lost about 100 dollars this year but the year before I lost 500,” he said. “I wanted to make it back so I guess it’s improvements each year, same as athletics. Next year I’ll try to make a profit or break even.”
Wightman’s Vegas visit co-incided with the Conor McGregor versus Khabib Nurmagomedov UFC fight, although given everything that unfolded he was perhaps wise to sidestep the chance of front-row seats for that one. “We went to see Drake instead, which wasn’t a bad compromise!” he said.
By the time he next sits down in Nevada’s desert playground, who knows what precious metal Wightman may have in his possession. While the schedule presents problems with doubling up in 800m and 1500m, he hopes to upgrade his bronze medals for a different colour at the European Indoors in Glasgow and the World Championships in Doha in late September. Assuming, that is, he manages to qualify from a pack which includes his fellow Scots Chris O’Hare, Josh Kerr and Neil Gourley.
“Getting medals at championships is what we are in the sport to do,” said the Scot, who has a high-profile backer in Lord Seb Coe.
“So to get two in one year has given me pretty good confidence I can go to more champs and be competitive. I can’t complain with my year, I would just like a different colour of medal next time round.
“The European Indoors is a big opportunity. For Scottish athletes it’s very exciting.”
He may not have left the terminal, but Wightman’s career is taking off.
Source : HeraldScotland