Jake Wightman exclusive: 'Dad will get more pride from going viral than me winning gold!'

·6-min read
Jake Wightman exclusive: 'Dad will get more pride from going viral than me winning gold!' - AP
Jake Wightman exclusive: 'Dad will get more pride from going viral than me winning gold!' - AP

Geoff Wightman, the father, coach and World Championships stadium commentator, thrusts his arms in the air in silent celebration as he bellows the words he has always dreamed of saying: “Jake Wightman wins the world title.”

After a few moments, he bends down to put his hands on knees for support, somehow maintaining his composure in spite of the magnitude of what his son has just achieved.

Only a little while later, after finishing his impeccable commentary stint, does he plonk himself back onto his seat and allow the emotion to briefly overcome him by slumping his head onto the desk.

The video of the proud, but fiercely professional, father in action provides a remarkable insight into a unique moment in athletics history that has since been viewed more than a million times on Twitter alone. It has also given Geoff, who is so often just a voice, a slight taste of fame that is most amusing for his son.

“I think he’ll be more happy that the video went viral on Twitter than that I actually won the thing,” said Jake, with tongue in cheek. “He loves Twitter. I reckon that will bring him the most pride, that he’s done something big online.”

Their story captured the imagination like few sporting tales do, transcending usual racing narratives - and Jake’s victory was spectacular enough in its own right - to gain traction worldwide.

Geoff, a former international marathon runner, had commentated on his son’s races since Jake was 10. Plenty of time, then, for Jake to grow accustomed to not listening to his father’s voice over the Hayward Field stadium speakers following the biggest victory of his life.

“It’s been too many years of having to block him out for me to still hear him now,” said Jake. “The video was cool though, because he doesn’t normally give much away, especially when he’s working.

“Even though it wasn’t as much [emotion] as many parents would show, for him it showed it was a big deal. Which it should be!”

British world champions do not come along often and Wightman’s 1500m triumph was the country’s only success in Eugene last month. Of the 18 British athletes to win individual titles in 39 years of the World Championships, his was perhaps the biggest surprise.

'The fact it actually happened was crazy'

Despite his pedigree as an Olympic and world finalist, Wightman had yet to make a global podium and was facing the first four finishers from last year’s Olympic final.

So unexpected was his triumph that the medal ceremony had to be brought forward because Jake’s flight home was due to depart before his podium moment was originally scheduled to take place the following day.

His victory came courtesy of the type of well-executed tactical plan that rarely plays out as perfectly as envisaged. Wightman moved onto much-fancied Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s shoulder with 300m to go and made a bold move to pass him with 200m remaining. It was a brave decision he cemented the day before.

“I spoke to my dad and my worry was that if I ran to win, I’d end up with nothing, so I wondered if I should run for a medal instead,” said Jake. “My dad said: ‘No, how often does someone get the chance to try to win a world title?’

“With 200 to go, I felt good so I had to try it. That was my bid for gold, so either way I would have known I’d tried to win. You always hope at some point that you can do something like that. But the fact it actually happened was just crazy.”

Jake Wightman left Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen trailing in Eugene - EPA-EFE/SHUTTERSTOCK
Jake Wightman left Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen trailing in Eugene - EPA-EFE/SHUTTERSTOCK

The gold medal should prove life-changing. Already recognised regularly around his London home, he says he would “love to make the most of being world champion” by capitalising on any celebrity television opportunities that might come his way. Most pleasingly, he hopes his profile should mean “I probably don’t have to get a normal job” when his running career ends.

The experience of such a high also took a mental toll in an unparalleled packed summer that also features last week’s Birmingham Commonwealth Games and the upcoming European Championships in Munich.

In a bid to help him focus, his girlfriend, Irish athlete Georgie Hartigan, hid his world medal, bib and congratulations cards, but he admits the “Commonwealth Games weren’t enjoyable” despite winning bronze in the most hotly-contested event of the track programme.

“I just felt like I didn’t really want to be there doing it,” said Jake. “I tried to tell myself it was fine and to get on it again, but I was emotionally drained. I felt empty, because I hadn’t processed what happened at the worlds.

“We’re only human aren’t we? If someone won the World Cup and had to come back out and play the Euros a couple of weeks later, they are never going to feel the same sort of desire for it.

“To get a bronze is something. I had nothing to prove so it felt like a bonus. It should have been an occasion that I enjoyed loads of, but a lot of it I just wanted to be done.”

Jake Wightman added 1500m bronze to his growing collection in Birmingham - PA
Jake Wightman added 1500m bronze to his growing collection in Birmingham - PA

He hopes to add a third medal at next week’s European Championships, where he will contest the 800m. Flying to Munich means he cannot be present to support his local parkrun, which on Saturday celebrates a £3.6 million National Lottery investment.

Despite his international status, Wightman has taken part in parkruns - free, weekly 5km runs on Saturday mornings - every year outside of the Covid pandemic. Unsurprisingly, he is unbeaten in them, aside from one defeat by a wheelchair racer, in a decade.

“For us [elite] athletes, it’s low key so you can have a run out without any pressure of having to race,” said Jake. “It’s the chance to run against yourself and each week hopefully you’ve improved on the previous week. Whether you’re at the front or back, the community is better than even the athletics community sometimes.”

It is also a chance to run without having to block out his father Geoff over the loudspeaker.

The National Lottery and parkrun are encouraging people across the UK to take part in their local parkrun. For more information visit www.parkrun.org.uk