Jake Wightman to use XC as Rio springboard

Jake Wightman has his sights set on an appearance at the Rio Olympics this summer
Jake Wightman has his sights set on an appearance at the Rio Olympics this summer
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Jake Wightman wants to use tomorrow’s Great Edinburgh XC as a springboard to the Olympics, with the Capital hope admitting being forced to wait until Tokyo 2020 would leave him kicking his heels.

The 21-year-old will turn out for Scotland in the 1-mile relay in Holyrood Park after returning from a Christmas training stint in the French mountains in a bid to climb higher in the rankings in 2016.

It’s all systems go, says Wightman, who took a step back last summer in the wake of winning the European junior title at 2013 at 1500m. And he’s anxious to prove his case beyond doubt to be in the British squad and on the plane to Rio come August.

“If you don’t go this year, it’s a four-year wait until the next one,” he said. “That’s a long time. By the time Tokyo comes, I’ll be 26 and then you might not have another shot. And very year there is more pressure to go to Championships. I wish I’d got to the Europeans in Zurich in 2014 but now I want to get one under the belt.

“Some people will go to the Europeans rather than Olympics but that wouldn’t be much of a consolation prize. Nobody’s talking about the ‘Road to Amsterdam’.

“Unless it turns out to be a run-off to decide the final place, which happened in 2012 in a few events. Lynsey Sharp showed then that you can do both and get something from it.”

The lessons have been learnt from last winter when he was rocked by falling ill during a spell in Kenya that proved an experiment gone wrong.

“I know how I can do things differently this year,” he said. “I got personal bests over every distance except 1500m so I can take some positives and it wasn’t a complete disaster. But it certainly wasn’t as successful as I’d wanted it to be.

“I hope I can make more progress. That was the plan last year but I never quite managed it. My one regret is not going to the Euro Under-23s, which meant I never had a proper race. I want to get back into running competitively and hopefully getting the Olympic standards early on.”

Wightman will link up with world championship finalists Steph Twell and Laura Muir, plus rising star Cameron Boyek, in a bid to lift the Stewart Cup against quartets from Europe, USA, Ireland and Great Britain.

Having moved to Loughborough for university, it will be a step back in time to retrace old steps in a familiar stomping ground.

“My first race there was when I was 10 or 11 and I had my first Scotland vest that day,” he said. “I was looking up to the international racers and then being among them was amazing.”

From Holyrood Park, he will see the floodlights from Meadowbank where he, like so many others, were nurtured through Edinburgh AC. And the GB international has backed calls from Mo Farah to give the famous old stadium an overdue face-lift.

“Every single person who has come through the Edinburgh system has fine memories of Meadowbank,” Wightman said. “It’s a shame it’s not been renovated and it’s a shame it’s dragged on so long. The youth coaches at Edinburgh AC bring through so much talent and hopefully we’ll be able to keep that up.”

Meanwhile Andy Butchart believes Farah’s presence can spur the British line-up to fend off Europe and the USA and take the overall Edinburgh XC title.

With the Americans due to jet into the Capital today in search of a repeat of their 2015 victory, the hosts are in buoyant mood after topping the standings at last month’s Euro Cross in France.

And Central AC’s Butchart, who missed the event following a virus, has warned the visitors not to expect undue hospitality.

“We’ll want to win,” the Scot said. “The team is pretty strong. The European squad is always strong but they never seem to perform that well here. I don’t know much about the American team and I don’t recognise their names. It looks open for Britain to get a win and of course having Mo is a big help for us.”