When Geoff Wightman started commentating on his 10-year-old son’s school sports days, he might not have imagined where the journey would lead them both.
Eighteen years on, as Jake Wightman crossed the line to become 1500m world champion on Tuesday night, it was Geoff who cried to the Oregon crowd: “Running is coming home.”
The 28-year-old looked as stunned as anyone as he held off Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen on the home straight.
Wightman finished in a world-leading three minutes 29.23 seconds and is the first British man to win the world 1500m title since Steve Cram in 1983.
Hearing his father calling the race could have made it all the more special, except Wightman is so used to it he hardly even notices.
“I’ve heard his voice so much that it’s just numb to me and I try to drown it out as much as possible,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Breakfast show.
“There’s no-one else who’s got their dad in the stadium calling the race. I’ve had so many stinkers where he’s been calling it that it’s nice to have this.”
As well as a commentator, Geoff Wightman doubles as his son’s coach and Jake said “he puts in as much effort if not more than me so I hope he can celebrate it as much as I can”.
‘I’m in the background blithering away’
Jake Wightman was born in Nottingham but runs for Scotland, where he was raised as Geoff was chief executive of Scottish Athletics.
Both Geoff and Wightman’s mother Susan are former athletes, with the former competing in the marathon at the Commonwealth Games and European Championships and the latter representing Team GB in the same event at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Competing on the global stage may have always been on the cards for Wightman then, but the World Championship victory is by far his greatest achievement.
He took 1500m bronze at the European Championships and Commonwealth Games in 2018, but failed to qualify for the 2016 Olympics and registered a disappointing 10th-place finish at Tokyo 2020.
Wightman senior allowed himself a moment of celebration when his son crossed the line, saying: “Wow. That is my son and he is the world champion.”
But as the victory sunk in he reminded Jake that the next focus is the Commonwealth Games, which start on 28 July, in a busy summer that also includes the European Championships.
A contributing factor to Jake’s success is surely that his coach and commentator recognises that, however proud he may be, there is still a job to do.
“The crowds have got bigger, the stadiums have got bigger but the threat is always that if I am not impartial or start coaching over the microphone I’ll get taken off the 1500m and I love the 1500m,” Geoff said.
“It’s his achievement. I’m in the background blithering away.”
But Geoff did admit: “It was surreal watching it because you’re thinking ‘I know that guy’.”
The experience was also surreal for Jake, who said he thought “something’s gone wrong” when he crossed the line, such was his disbelief that he had beaten Ingebrigtsen.
It may go some way to healing what he describes as a “scarring experience” in Tokyo, but there is not much time to celebrate.
“I’m flying home tomorrow at lunchtime so I just have to make sure I don’t miss my travel out of here,” he explained.
“There is a season still to happen, that’s the only annoying thing. I’ve got other champs to prepare for otherwise I would be going a bit large I think.”