SEB Coe knows a thing or two about doubling up in the 800m and 1500m at a major championships. But even he knows there are no foolproof plans when it comes to the sharp end of middle-distance racing.
No sooner had the IAAF President passed on his advice to Scotland’s Jake Wightman ahead of tonight’s Commonwealth 800m final at the Carrara Stadium than the politician in him was inserting the small print.
“. . . But what do I know,” he said. “I’ve stuffed up a few 800 metres in my time.”
While he too has more pedigree in the 1500m, Wightman is doing well enough in 800m all by himself. Racing in the slowest, final heat, he put on the after burners to claim the second automatic qualifying spot in this lunchtime’s final, where he hopes to battle Botswana’s Nijel Amos, Australia’s Luke Matthews and a couple of handy Kenyans for a medal.
False modesty aside though, Coe – who took gold in the 1500m and silver in the 800m at both the 1980 and 1984 Olympics – is in touch with Wightman often enough that the two men should perhaps consider setting up a
A friend of his dad Geoff’s from their running days, Jake is a real student of the sport who grew up immersed in the Coe legend via his parents. He was delighted to receive a hand-written letter of congratulations from him after he became the first
British male winner of a Diamond League in the 1500m at last year’s Bislett Games in Oslo and there was even a comic exchange between the two when Wightman mistakenly thought that a text from the IAAF President was actually from an old university pal who was also called Seb.
For the record, the track legend’s advice to Wightman ahead of tonight’s Commonwealth 800m final is simple enough to be verging on the bleeding obvious.
Don’t get boxed in. And be prepared to think outside the box if things aren’t going the way you hoped they would.
“What is my advice to him?” said Coe. “Back his own instincts. Back his own judgment. It’s very difficult for someone sitting in the stands to make that judgment.
“But the golden rule in all these things is to focus all the time and keep your wits about you,” he added. “The number one rule, particularly in 800 because things happen really quickly, is always to have an exit strategy – just in case someone does something silly in front of you.
“If they do, does that leave you on the inside momentarily where the race has got away from you? So if in doubt always run clear and just don’t get caught on the inside.”
If the likes of Wightman are bringing the 800/1500 double back into fashion, Coe doesn’t see why it shouldn’t be achievable – even if the dynamics over racing over the shorter distance appear to be changing.
Where successful runners like himself would often leave their burst till the latter stages of a race, now
exponents often step on the gas from the outset. At least Wightman had the day off yesterday after a round of the 800m was dropped due to a lack of entrants.
“It is tough to double up,” said Coe of Wightman, the sole Scot surviving in this event after the elimination of
“He hasn’t doubled up that often before. The only observation I made was, as I found in LA when I doubled up and on other occasions, that getting some good 800 metres under your belt actually left you in good shape.
He’s a well-conditioned athlete so
actually, given his background as an athlete, that could be advantageous to him.
“I thought Jake looked really strong in his semi-final,” he added. “He didn’t put a foot wrong. The problem is the nature of the 800 metres has altered. I don’t think, if I’m being honest, it’s strictly an endurance event anymore.
“It gives the 400 metre chancers more of a chance. In the old days
you had four rounds in four days.
But actually the ability to last four rounds in four days also meant you probably had enough background to do the 1500 as well. Most of the 800 metres runners now are struggling beyond 800 metres and two yards.”
Watching him run in this manner over two laps with his preferred event still to come, there is a temptation to get carried away by the promise of Wightman. “Jake is making good progress,” continued Coe. “Remember he was the first British athlete in ten years to win a Diamond League. It prompted me to pen a piece of paper to him. Mind you, it had to be pen and paper because
I can’t type on a computer!”
Wightman, who also had Steve Ovett’s son Freddy staying with him, has no shortage of belief in his own ability. “I’m here to get a medal,” he said. “No matter what the event. The opportunity to have two is very exciting. But however the 800 goes, I’ve got to keep my focus for the 1500m.”
Whatever happens this lunchtime – flagbearer Eilidh Doyle has her date with destiny not long before – Wightman seems headed for great things and the Gold Coast might well be the next staging post on his progress.
It always helps when you have friends in high places to call upon.