Weightman aims for London 2017 delight to repay mentor Cram

Laura Weightman (white vest) in the women's 1500m final at last year's Olympics in Brazil.
Laura Weightman (white vest) in the women's 1500m final at last year's Olympics in Brazil.

The hunt for international honours is not a personal battle for middle-distance runner Laura Weightman.

The 26-year-old athlete has the know-how of former world record holder Steve Cram to fall back on in her quest to lead Britain’s emerging pack of female middle distance runners to glory at the home World Championships later this year.

And a funding snub earlier last year has given the Northumbrian runner even more motivation to prove herself on the big stage.

Spotted as a teenager, Weightman, from Lesbury, has been in a small working group under the BBC commentator for eight years and she has developed into one of the world’s most consistent 1,500m runners.

This was evident again last year as she battled back from heartache 12 months previously to reach the Olympic final in Rio.

“I wouldn’t be where I am now without Steve,” Weightman said.

“I am incredibly lucky to have had him coach me for eight years. He has put so much time and effort into me. When I step out there, I want to perform to my best and give him something back and say thank you.”

Cram will be remembered for his 1983 World Championship gold over countryman Steve Ovett and his 1,500m record breaking run in 1985.

Since retiring, he has developed into one of the country’s most iconic voices of sport, portraying the highs and lows of British athletics.

But when his protégé takes to the start-line, the gripping tones of his Newcastle accent are emotionally pained.

“He gets really nervous,” Weightman reveals. “I think he likes to commentate on my race because he has to concentrate and he’s not worrying about me.

“When he’s not in the commentary box, he’s got the binoculars out looking at what I am doing.”

Cram’s nervous emotion surfaced when Weightman crashed to the floor during the heats of the 2015 World Championships.

The athlete was left bloodied and concussed from a fall that ended her championships and her season.

The 52-year-old’s chilling commentary summed up Weightman’s heartbreak. Live on air, he just wanted to go trackside and give her a hug.

“It’s hard for him to be commentating in that moment when all he wanted to do was make sure I was okay,” recalled Weightman.

“The whole experience was incredibly difficult. When you know you’re in the best shape of your life, you have put all that work in and to have that all taken away from you in a moment reminds you how cruel sport can be.

“That really has told me that you need to enjoy the moments when you’re flying. That moment when you step on the track and you feel invincible doesn’t happen that often.”

After overcoming the mental knock-back of her knock-out, Weightman returned to the championships setting one year on and finished 11th at the Rio Olympics. It was the same result the runner achieved in the event at London four years previously and her pride was mixed with frustration. Weightman added: “I left Rio incredibly disappointed. I didn’t enjoy the experience like I did London. London I was spoilt, I had the time of my life as a 21-year-old.

“I went to Rio at 25 with bigger expectations on your shoulder. To finish 11th, a lot of people say I should be proud, but you always want more.”

The disappointment turned to anger in November when Weightman was controversially dropped from British Athletics’ elite performance funding.

Weightman had been on the podium potential level of funding and her performance in Rio was not enough to put belief in the selectors ahead of Tokyo 2020.

However, the decision has changed little in Weightman’s preparation as she continues to enjoy the benefits of her coaching set-up at Leeds Beckett University, where she studied a sports science degree.

“It’s been really difficult, I didn’t expect it,” Weightman added. “Sometimes you can see it coming, but I genuinely didn’t expect to be removed from funding.

“I know I didn’t get a medal in Rio and I haven’t got a medal at world championships level. But over the years I have consistently performed at a high level and consistently been one of the best in the world.

“I’m fortunate that the set-up I have here in Leeds doesn’t change. The people that work with me don’t support me because they need to, they support me because they want to and it’s their passion to help me.

“That’s something Steve told me when I moved to Leeds back in 2010. It was one of the best pieces of advice he has given me.”

Winter training has been focused on adding miles through the legs as Weightman ponders a transformation into 5,000m running ahead of Tokyo 2020.

The competitive 1,500m remains the priority this year, however, where Weightman will join Britain’s new athletics star Laura Muir in bidding for home glory at the World Championships in London.

Muir won the Diamond League series for the event last year, allowing Team GB to have four qualification spots for the event.

Weightman believes Britain is heading towards a golden era of middle distance running on the women’s side.

Looking ahead to the championships, Weightman added: “London 2017 for me is going to be incredibly exciting.

“If I look back to 2012, I have such fond memories of competing in the Olympic stadium. That was one of the highlights of my career and stands out as one of those ‘did that really happen?’ moments.

“It all went by like a blur. The atmosphere was absolutely incredible. If London 2017 can capture some of that inspiration, it’s going to be a fantastic event.

“I have competed there in Diamond League since and they have been incredible, but I know championships get the best out of me and having those big crowds in there is something I thrive under.

“I want to step onto the track, perform well and let my performances do the talking. I know what I am capable of.

“A lot of the anger and frustration that I had when I was removed from funding only fuelled my winter training to get out there and prove what I can do.

“I know I’m good enough. Everyone around me believes me. So hopefully when I get on the track this summer I can put in some performances that turn a few heads.”