Jake Wightman gave it his all for eternity in a 1500m final in the Commonwealth. This time, however, the familiar formula didn’t quite work as Ollie Hoare rushed to death to win Australia’s first middle-distance gold at these Games since Herb Elliott in 1958.
Hoare promised to buy the legendary Elliott, who is now 84, a drink. It’s sure to be quite a celebration.
However, Wightman had no regrets after his brave attempt to win three major titles – at the Worlds, Commonwealths and Europeans – in one summer fell short. Two weeks ago at Eugene, the 28-year-old Scot had stunned everyone by kicking for glory with 200m to go and then battling for a famous world title.
This time, however, as he repeated the trick, his pursuers were ready – and his legs were a bit heavier. And while still leading with 50m to go, he was surpassed first by Kenya’s Timothy Cheruiyot and then by Hoare, who got up from just in front of the line and won in a record 3:30.12 in a Commonwealth Games. Cheruiyot took the silver in 3:30.21 with Wightman 0.32 in third place.
“It was the best thing I could have done,” Wightman admitted. “I didn’t want to be a pedestrian and run for smaller medals. I wanted to make a statement, but I wasn’t feeling nearly as good as I was a few weeks ago.
“I knew when I left I was going to have a tough home straight but hoped everyone else would have the same,” he added. “I was pretty disappointed at first, but if I said to myself that I would come back two weeks after winning the World Championship and get a bronze in a similar field, I would be quite happy. It’s so hard mentally to come back from that.”
The bookies may have made Wightman the favourite. But he knew, as did the rest of us, that this was a 1500m final full of class and doubt. Three of the first four of last year’s Olympics were in the field, along with Hoare, who had made several notable performances this season before ending up in the World Cup semifinals. This was to prove to be the sweetest redemption.
There was no slouching as Kenya’s Abel Kipsang pulled her around the first lap in a quick 54 seconds, with Cheruiyot in close pursuit. But Wightman looked well placed before making his move down the backstretch. “It was a bit instinctive,” he says. “I wanted to get back into the corner. I knew I wasn’t that fresh anymore. I persevered down the stretch instead of feeling strong. I felt quite vulnerable.”
Hoare, meanwhile, reveled in an overwhelming victory. When asked for his opinion, he simply replied, “Holy shit.”
“The race ended pretty quickly,” he said after he’d calmed down. “But I was training for a fast race and ran a 3:47 mile in Oslo, so I knew I had the power there. It was just about getting the kick at the right time.”
“I went through on the inside with a lap to go and saw Jake next to me and I panicked because he’s the world champion. And in the stadium you can hear the Scottish roar. But I tried to keep my composure. And then with 100 minutes to go when I got off lane three it was just about keeping in shape and just running like hell.”
But it wasn’t until the last five meters that he finally got up when Cheruiyot stumbled.
“I knew I had him because he couldn’t gauge where anyone else was,” Hoare said. “So he was in a very volatile position, even if you’re of his caliber. And I saw that he was starting to lock up and I knew I had more juice in the tank. I thought: not today. I’ll start today. And I was able to pull through in the end.”
Elsewhere on the final morning of Athletics there was Hammergold for England in the form of Nick Miller, whose modest throw of 76.43m against a weak field was good enough.