Ask the athlete: Geoff Wightman

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Coach and stadium commentator on Super Saturday, his advice for young athletes and why his son Jake hasn’t yet reached his peak

What do you think of the current domestic grassroots scene and are there any lessons from the past that could benefit today’s athletes? 

The comparisons are very, very difficult to make because when we were running in the 1970s and 1980s, there weren’t the same distractions as now. Football was another [big] sport back then and level with athletics at times before the explosion of the Premier League and Sky Sports. 

There weren’t fast food joints, entertainment complexes, mobile phones or the internet, so when you did a hobby you could do it as much as you wanted and it didn’t appear geeky or unusual. It didn’t drag you away from other things.

We’ll not be able to rewind to that or those set of circumstances but I think we have to try and recognise that competition or training formats – or anything that seeks to engage young people – has to be quicker. It has to be something they can dip in and out of instead of absorbing completely, like we did when we got into running back in the 1970s. 

If you could paint a picture of what it was like to commentate on Jake’s final lap in Oregon, how would you describe it? 

Well, going into the last lap it was normal. It was like almost every 1500m is. It was fairly quick and there were eight or nine still in contention. Jakob Ingebrigtsen had just hit the front and the most normal scenario was that he’d push on and go away but Jake’s race plan was to stick with him and cover the breaks. I could tell from Jake’s body language that he was okay and his positioning was good. 

He [Jake] did force his way around the bend before it really started. That was pretty exciting and my heart was racing a bit, although you couldn’t detect that from the commentary.

Coming into the straight, although the two of them were getting away, Josh Kerr and Tim Cheruiyot weren’t too far behind and a lot of my concentration was really just on identification. I was also vaguely aware that Mo Farah’s British 1500m record [3:28.81] could go so I was just keeping an eye on the clock as well. 

It was exciting. I talked through with Jake that he was in the form to win it and how that might happen. The best chance you have against Jakob is in the last 150m but you’ve got to be with him and very few people can do that. Even though you visualise it lots of times, you’re thinking: “Did I dream that or what!?”

Jake Wightman (Getty)

Do you think Jake has hit his peak at middle distance and will he move up to the 5000m at some point? 

I don’t think he has hit his peak. He was quite a late developer. He was a very small kid in his mid-teens. I mentioned recently that, when he was an under-17, he was ranked equal 26th in Scotland. So he’s come from a long way back and there is still scope for progress. I don’t think 5000m will be an option for him but there are other distances indoors, like the 3000m. He’s just dipping a toe in the water with that and it went okay. 

Outside of the 1500m final in Oregon, what’s the best moment you’ve commentated on? 

I was in the stadium for Super Saturday at London 2012. I don’t think we’ll ever get those circumstances again. Three British gold medals and I called in two of them – Jess Ennis’ heptathlon and Mo Farah’s 10,000m. It’s 10 years now but you still see the pictures and hear the sound and that’s hard to beat as a best moment. I called the Usain Bolt 100m in London and that was also a vivid memory. I always enjoy the announcing gigs when it comes to championships. 

Jessica Ennis (Mark Shearman)

My son is eight and he loves distance running. He is showing more promise with his times. At what age should we look at giving him a more structured training plan? 

Well into the future. It’s great that he’s involved in athletics but have him doing other stuff. Football, cricket, tennis, basketball, hockey, rugby. Everything. Find out what he enjoys and loves doing the most. If he starts getting more serious at athletics and that’s his thing then get a personal best at a distance. Try the pole vault, javelin and triple jump as well. I always used to think joining a club at 14 or 15 was about right and if you leave it later than that then kids tend to be hoovered up by other sports who are actively recruiting at a younger age. 

The key to it is enjoyment, then multi-sports and then multi-events. In your teens you then train more regularly every other day. If you’re male and a distance runner then by the time you get to university you want to be running 50 miles a week in your first year. You shouldn’t exceed that at sixth form. So set personal bests and enjoy it. 

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