Saturday night, 14 May 2016, was cold and overcast in Manchester, England. On the Sportcity track, two of the United Kingdom’s most celebrated middle-distance runners lined up against one another in a 1,500m heat. But this was one of only a couple of occasions when they would meet on the track.

One of the two athletes had competed globally throughout the previous decade, including Olympic and Commonwealth Games appearances. The other was just beginning his senior career, having won a European U20 1,500m medal in 2013.

And yet, even though the runners were at different ends of their professional running careers, the threads that connect them to this day are strong. Andy Baddeley and Jake Wightman are separated by a decade but, in many ways, and to an amazing extent, they are very similar.

Jake Wightman – the 29-year-old British 2022 world 1,500m champion – was in Boston. It was early February 2024, two nights before the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix at theTRACK, a state- of-the-art athletics facility in the suburb of Brighton, close to New Balance’s global headquarters. And Jake was feeling ready to face the 200m track. “I’m really excited to race,” he said. “Although it is hard to know how I’ll feel or how the race will go.”

What Jake did know is that, in an Olympic year, the competition will be fierce and all eyes will be on him to see whether he can make it on to the Team GB squad for the Paris Games. In the 1,500m race in which Jake competed – his first race in almost a year due to injury – it had been decided that the pacers would run to an Olympic qualifying standard: 3m33.05s. In the end, Jake finished second in a personal best time of 3m34.06s, which put him third on the UK all-time rankings. Close, but not quite there.

After the race in Boston, Jake headed to Australia for the John Landy Mile in Melbourne. There again, he finished a very close second, prompting him to take the opportunity to head to Sydney for another event, where he hopes he can build on his progress and get the Olympic qualifying standard he needs. The pressure is relentless – both internally and externally – and the travel schedule is brutal.

Pressure is something with which Andy Baddeley is all too familiar. Andy had been part of the Team GB squad that competed at the London Games in 2012. Like Jake, Andy raced in the 1,500m. Also like Jake, Andy had to contend with the pressure to perform, the taxing travel required from an elite runner and an internal drive, pushing him to the top of his game… but which also comes with costs.


On that Manchester night in 2016, Andy and Jake lined up alongside a dozen or so other runners. Andy may not have entered a relatively small-scale event such as this at the height of his career, but he hoped it could be a stepping stone towards a return to what he did so well.

The event was a British Milers Club meet. Andy was trying to get back in shape and secure a place in the Team GB squad for that year’s Olympic Games in Rio. But the years since he had raced in the Olympic Stadium in east London had been difficult for him. “I’d had my wilderness years after 2012,” Andy explains. “I had had this horrific injury that didn’t get properly diagnosed for three years. Finally I had surgery in January 2015 and tried to come back for the 2016 Olympics in 1,500m.”

Perhaps logic would have suggested that, at the age of 34, Andy might have been better off increasing his distance to the 5,000m – or even the 10,000m. But because of the duration of his leg injury and the time taken to recover from surgery, he had not been able to complete the volume of training he thought necessary for the longer distance races. In the end, Andy finished in seventh place in 3m45.09s, more than 10 seconds slower than his personal best. And, in an elite four-lap race, quite a long way from the front.

A very young-looking Jake Wightman won the race that night. In the results, he is listed as an U23 athlete. One reporter there to witness the event wrote simply that: “Jake Wightman ran solo for the second half of his metric mile race to record 3m41.89s to open his quest for Rio selection.”

The sport of athletics – or track and field, as it is also known – has some curious quirks. Despite being a jewel in the Olympic crown, outside of that carnival of sport, interest among the general public is inconsistent, to say the least. Andy and Jake are both from the United Kingdom, a country that has been through periods when runners have become household names. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Sebastian (now Lord) Coe and Steve Ovett were extremely popular – so much so that the nightly news was famously interrupted several times for live coverage of their races. In the late 2000s and into the 2010s, athletes such as Usain Bolt and Mo Farah enjoyed levels of fame that rivalled popstars and Hollywood actors. But Andy Baddeley, despite being arguably the best middle-distance runner of his era, did not reach household-name status. So why was this? And why is the profile of athletics in the UK so erratic?


This idea that athletics has a profile problem is one on which both Andy and Jake agree. “One of the biggest changes that I have seen in athletics,” says Jake, “is that in the early years of my career, there was no Usain Bolt.” Jake says that during Bolt’s era, “Everyone used to know who the fastest man on earth was and that gave people a reason to tune in to watch the sport.”

Andy highlights a similar situation when he was competing at the height of his career. In his case, he believes that, prior to the 2012 Olympics, British athletes were not expected to win – certainly not in middle- and long-distance races. In those events, the dominance of East African and North African runners had been almost complete for at least a decade. One result of this was that the profile of British athletes was lower than it had been previously. As Andy says: “If you think about Linford Christie, Colin Jackson, Steve Backley or Sally Gunnell, if they won something in that era – and whatever colour the medal, really – they were on cereal packets and they were an absolute superstar.”

At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Team GB won four medals, the only gold being Christine Ohuruogu’s in the 400m. The coach resigned because the team had not hit the medal target it had been set (although it is worth noting that after the Games, so many athletes were caught doping that another four Team GB athletes were promoted to medal positions, which meant the team did, in fact, exceed the target).

Then, at the London Games, everything changed. Team GB athletes won so many medals that immediately following the Olympics, the public’s expectations were far higher and there was much more public interest. The performances by athletes including Sir Mo Farah, Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, Christine Ohuruogu MBE, Greg Rutherford MBE, Sir Bradley Wiggins, the Brownlee brothers and others placed Team GB third in the medal table.

Following that huge success, Jake says that “there have been more fans, more personalities and more records”, which he sees as indicating that athletics is entering a new golden era.


Andy retired in 2016 before the Rio Games. By that point he and his wife had two children. And, in pushing his body to get back to world-class form, he developed another – different – injury. “It wasn’t a big injury,”says Andy, “but it was it just enough. So I asked myself: ‘Do I really want to do this any more?’ And the answer was: I don’t. I’ve got two kids now. I can’t be as selfish as is required for me to be my best.”

Meanwhile, Jake was starting to realise his dreams. But the journey has not been a smooth one. Despite the assessment of the journalist at the British Milers Event in 2016 when Jake won the race in which he beat Andy, he missed out on being selected for the Rio Olympics by a tiny margin. Five years later, Jake did make it to Tokyo for the postponed 2020 Games, but finished a disappointing 10th in the 1,500m.

There have been plenty of highs, though. In 2022 in Eugene, Oregon, Jake won the 1,500m World Championships, beating hot favourite Jakob Ingebrigtsen. That year continued in a positive way with a 1,500m bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games (held in Birmingham, UK) and then a silver for the 800m at the European Championships in Munich, Germany. Frustratingly, an injury derailed Jake’s plans to defend his World Championships title in Budapest in 2023 and he was forced to watch from the stands as teammate and fellow Scottish athlete Josh Kerr also bested Ingebrigtsen.

Aside from training and competing at the highest levels, another thread that links Andy and Jake is that they both raced as New Balance athletes. One of the benefits they see from being part of the New Balance team is access to class-leading footwear. Jake is quick to recognise that developments in footwear, in particular, are making a big difference to the sport. “Technology has definitely contributed to new times and new records on the track,” he says. “I believe that the racing is as good as ever, but the way athletes can now run faster times [thanks to the new shoes] is adding a new dimension for the fans.”


Perhaps the most significant connection between Andy and Jake is that, at heart, they are both fans of the sport. Despite coming from different eras, their love for athletics is apparent. In Andy’s case, his love of running has been transferred from elite track events in packed stadiums to chasing personal goals – one of which he achieved at the 2023 Valencia marathon, finishing in 2h53m49s. The elusive sub-three-hour marathon was hard-earned, and all the more gratifying for it.

Jake, meanwhile, is still very much involved in the elite end of running. He says that in this Olympic year, he has the potential to make a dream come true. “When I look back on the last 10 years,” says Jake, “a lot has happened. The 19-year-old Jake would not believe how far I have come, what I have achieved and the times I have run. At the same time, the 29-year-old Jake of today can look forward and see that there are still very exciting times ahead. This year, I could tick off the last of my childhood goals with an Olympic gold medal.”

Looking back over the past 10 years or so, as Andy Baddeley’s amazing career as an elite athlete came to a close and Jake Wightman moved up the ranks – from a junior to a senior athlete and then to competing in the Olympics and becoming the World Champion – it is clear that times have changed. But perhaps what is most gratifying is how two athletes who (apart from a couple of races) had careers that did not overlap, have so much in common. With each other and, as fans of the sport and the simple pleasure of running, with the rest of us too.

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