Athletics: Laura Weightman hoping for 'third time lucky' at World Championships

Driven: Leeds-based 1,500m runner Laura Weightman has a point to prove at the forthcoming World Athletics Championships in London after two previous disappointments at the bi-annual global gathering led to her losing funding from British Athletics. (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)
Driven: Leeds-based 1,500m runner Laura Weightman has a point to prove at the forthcoming World Athletics Championships in London after two previous disappointments at the bi-annual global gathering led to her losing funding from British Athletics. (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)
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Ask Laura Weightman about luck and she will point you in the direction of her rotten experiences at her last two World Championships.

The Leeds athlete’s first occasion at the biennial showpiece, in Moscow, ended in tears after she failed to reach the semi-finals following a season beset by injury.

Great Britain's Laura Weightman and USA's Shannon Rowbury lead the women's 1,500m final at the Olympic Stadium on the eleventh day of the Rio Olympics Games, Brazil. (Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire)

Great Britain's Laura Weightman and USA's Shannon Rowbury lead the women's 1,500m final at the Olympic Stadium on the eleventh day of the Rio Olympics Games, Brazil. (Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire)

Two years later, in the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing, Weightman was sent home on medical grounds after falling after the finish line in her heat, which stopped her from running in the semi-finals due to concussion.

It will hopefully be a case of third time lucky when the 26-year-old attempts to put her career firmly back on track at the World Championships in London next week.

“I just want to go out there and show what I am capable of,” Weightman told The Yorkshire Post.

“Beijing really affected me for a long time; the physical effects of the concussion, but also the mental effects of not being able to compete and having to be sent home when you have worked so hard for that one championship.

The funding was a blow but that was a mistake on British Athletics part. I am still performing very well. I have shown this year that I can still mix it with the best in the world.

Laura Weightman

“After those disappointments, I just want to get out what I put in. I am going into this championships physically and mentally in the best shape possible.”

Weightman will line up inside the Olympic Stadium on the opening night of the festival of athletics next Friday for the heats of the 1,500m – an event in which Britain have four athletes and one of their best chances of home glory.

Eyes will be fixed firmly on Scotland’s Laura Muir, who, after winning the Diamond League 12 months ago, has British supporters rubbing their hands at the dawn of a new middle-distance era.

“It’s an incredibly exciting event,” said Weightman.

“This year we have had a number of girls that have run the qualifying time. Female middle distance running has really stepped up its game in the past few years.

“If people run their best tactical race and progress through the rounds, there’s no reason why we couldn’t have two or three of us in that final. It’s an exciting opportunity that is ahead of us and one that we should embrace.”

Like Muir, Weightman has a success story of her own.

Off the back of reaching the final in Rio last year, the Northumberland-born runner – who stayed in Yorkshire after studying at Leeds Beckett University – feels in the shape of her life having set new personal bests over 800m and 5,000m already this summer.

She has battled back from the disappointment of losing her British Athletics funding, securing a committed team in Leeds, fronted by former world record holder Steve Cram, to focus on her needs.

“My target is to make that final,” she reasoned. “I have been racing competitively up to London so I think that’s a reachable target.

“It’s a big confidence boost going into the champs knowing that all the boxes that I wanted to tick have all been done, and I’ve performed the best that I have done in my life.”

Thursday marked five years since the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in the grand athletics stadium, which now plays host to Premier League football club West Ham United.

The Games were Weightman’s first experience of a major championships at senior level and she responded to the roar of the home crowd to finish ninth in the 1,500m final.

“I have such great memories of London 2012,” she reflected. “It was the highlight of my career and to have another major championships in London so soon after it, we are incredibly spoilt and fortunate to experience that atmosphere again.

“I remember when I walked into the stadium for my heat. It was a morning session yet the whole stadium was packed full. I walked out of that tunnel and felt so emotional that I was about to achieve a dream and become an Olympian. It was a lasting memory and reminded me what sport means and just why I do this. It’s for moments like that. That experience just makes me want to get back out there and race. I’m so excited for next week. The crowd will be awesome again.”

Another final finish would run counter to British Athletics’ decision to cut Weightman from podium funding at the end of 2016, which ultimately sent a message that she was not expected to compete alongside the world’s best in the lead up to Tokyo 2020.

The decision still rankles with the middle-distance runner.

But instead of wallowing in disgruntlement, she has used it as her motivation and it has changed her emphasis ahead of London.

Weightman said: “The one thing I have enjoyed this year is that I have nothing to prove. I have got no one to answer to. It’s just me, myself and my coach.

“These world championships are about how well I can run for me and Steve and the team that work around me. It’s more a thank-you for them and not based on anyone else.

“The funding was a blow, but that was a mistake on British Athletics’ part. I am still performing very well. I have shown this year that I can still mix it with the best in the world.”