TWELVE months ago, the British Championships effectively signalled the end of Laura Weightman’s season. A fall towards the end of a particularly bruising final left her nursing a damaged bone in her foot that required her to be on crutches for more than a fortnight. She recovered to line up in the World Championships, but an understandable lack of sharpness saw her fail to make it out of her heat.
Fast forward 12 months, and the Northumbrian’s experience of last weekend’s National Championships, which also doubled as the European Championship trials, was somewhat different. Lining up in a 1,500m field that also featured former world silver medallist Hannah England and rising star Laura Muir, Weightman produced a tactical master-class to surge clear of the field with one lap to go and outsprint her rivals on the surge to the line.
The victory confirmed her place in next month’s European Championships in Zurich and enabled her to reclaim the national crown she last won in 2012. Just as importantly, it also drew a line under one of the most painful experiences of the 23-year-old’s career to date.
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“Last year the trials practically ruined my season, so it felt like there was a bit of unfinished business to put right,” said Weightman. “It definitely felt more special because of everything that happened a year ago.
“I was so determined to get the win and I think that spurred me on in the last 400m. When Laura came to my shoulder, I was just thinking, ‘There’s no way I’m going to let you get past me’. I wanted it so much.
“That extra kick came from me being adamant that I wasn’t going to lose. There were a lot of emotions once I crossed the finishing line because it felt like it closed the door on the past. It also meant all the hard work over the winter had paid off.”
With her British crown regained, Weightman can now turn her attention to the second half of what could prove a landmark summer.
Later this month, the Morpeth Harrier will head to Glasgow to compete in the Commonwealth Games, before doubling up in the Europeans which will be staged a couple of weeks later.
Both events offer an opportunity for Weightman to challenge for her first major medal, an achievement that would elevate her to the highest rank of the British athletics team.
Neither task will be straightforward as the Commonwealth field will contain two Kenyan athletes who sit comfortably in the world’s top ten, while the European start list will be headed by Swede Abeba Aregawi, who boasts the world’s fastest time in the 1,500m this year.
Nevertheless, having made the Olympic final in 2012 and set a new personal best on her first outing of the season at a Diamond League event in Eugene in May, Weightman can justifiably target a top-three finish in both of this summer’s major championships.
“I feel like I’m in a good place to kick on now,” she said. “The last couple of years have given me some really good experience and really helped my development. But this year is about moving things forward ahead of the next two-year cycle that will be based around a World Championships and Olympics.
“I want to use these two championships to learn how to perform in terms of heading into a major event with the belief that I can push for medals.
“In London, I was really happy just to make the final. That was my target at the start of the Games, and I achieved it, but hopefully I’m past that now.
“Now, I wouldn’t be happy with that any more. That’s obviously the first target at any major championships, but I want to be putting in performances that give me a realistic chance of challenging for a medal.”
Weightman’s next outing will come in this weekend’s Diamond League event in Paris, and she is also due to line up in the Glasgow Diamond League that effectively serves as the warm-up for the Commonwealths.
Her times this season suggest she is capable of holding her own against anyone, and are testament to both her own hard work during the winter and the guidance of Steve Cram, who continues to oversee her training programme despite her recent relocation to Leeds.
“It’s nice to know everything’s heading the right way,” she said. “That was one of the most competitive British fields I’ve ever raced against, so it was great to come out on top in the way that I did.
“We’ve got so many fantastic 1,500m runners in this country at the moment, so you have to be at the very top of your game just to make squads and give yourself a chance of competing for major honours.
“I’ve put in a couple of decent times this season, but I needed a couple of proper championship races to get me back into the swing of racing against other athletes rather than the clock.
“I got that at the weekend, and it was nice to come away knowing that I’m capable of really kicking on in a last lap. I know what my strengths are in that period of the race now, and hopefully I’ll get the chance to make the most of them in a final later in the summer.”