Jake Wightman relieved to get Team GB ‘lifeline’ for what could be last Olympics

Former world champion Jake Wightman feels relieved to have been thrown a “lifeline” after he was named in the Team GB athletics squad for the Paris Olympics.

The British team of over 60 athletes is stacked with medal hopefuls including Dina Asher-Smith, who won 100m gold at last month’s European Championships, reigning 1500m world champion Josh Kerr, world indoor pole vault title-holder Molly Caudery and current world heptathlon champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson, selected for her fourth Olympics.

A maximum of three athletes could be selected in each individual event, with the top two finishers at last weekend’s British Championships – which also served as the Olympic trials – claiming places provided they met selection standards.

Wightman, who finished 10th in the 1500m in Tokyo, put his fate in the selectors’ hands after withdrawing from the trials due to a calf issue and has been chosen to run the 800m in Paris.

“There was no way I did not want to be at those trials because the consequences were horrific, potentially,” said 29-year-old Wightman, who claimed the world 1500m title in Eugene two years ago, but could not defend it after a foot injury in January 2023 and a subsequent series of setbacks forced him out of action for 13 months.

“I feel very lucky to gave been given a lifeline still, because that could have easily been season’s done. I would have always wanted to double (in the 800m and 1500m) if I could have, but I’m just glad to be able to go over one of them and show that I can.

“Watching Tokyo, I watched that 800m (Olympic) final, I thought, ‘I would have loved to be in that final’ because I felt like I could have had a good chance, but now I’ve got to put my money where my mouth is and see if I can actually do that.”

 Great Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson bites her silver medal after finishing second in the Women’s 800m final at the Olympic Stadium on the twelfth day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Japan
Keely Hodgkinson will look to improve on her silver from Tokyo (Martin Rickett/PA)

Keely Hodgkinson will look to do one better after claiming 800m silver three years ago in Tokyo, where Laura Muir, back for her third Games this summer, also reached the second step of the 1500m podium.

Muir faces competition in British champion Georgia Bell – who stepped away from sport and was working a 9-5 job before picking up running again during the covid-19 pandemic.

Caudery, one of the most hyped-up athletes amongst her peers, is among 35 Olympic debutants on a list that also includes 17-year-old sensation Phoebe Gill, crowned 800m British champion last weekend, and 100m sprinter Louie Hinchcliffe, who stunned with a time of 9.95secs at the NCAA championships last month before claiming his own UK title.

Hinchcliffe will compete alongside fellow British debutant Jeremiah Azu and veteran Zharnel Hughes – also Team GB’s sole male entry in the 200m and the world 100m bronze medallist- who missed the Olympic trials with a hamstring issue but is expected to resume competition at the London Diamond League meet later this month.

Women’s sprinting is similarly brimming with quality, including Olympic veterans Asher-Smith and Daryll Neita, who was beaten to European gold last month by just 0.01 seconds. Both are competing in the individual 100m and 200m and also eligible for the 4x100m women’s relay.

Matthew Hudson-Smith is the reigning world 400m silver medallist, while Ben Pattison claimed 800m bronze at the same Budapest worlds in 2023.

Wightman misses out on a 1500m showdown between Kerr and Norway’s Tokyo 2020 gold medallist Jakob Ingebrigtsen, but feels Paris provides him an opportunity to earn overdue respect at the shorter distance.

Looking back on his time out, he reflected on “how quick you get forgotten” in athletics, and admits Paris could well be his last Games, adding: “I’m not saying definitely, but that’s how I’m looking at it. It probably likely is, because I’ve got other things I’d like to do in my life.

“I missed the whole of last year.  How many years have I got left to try to achieve what I want to achieve?

“I have to make sure I make every single one count.”