Leeds has been key to Weightman’s Rio 2016 bid

Laura Weightman.
Laura Weightman.
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WHEN LAURA Weightman is interviewed after this morning’s 1500m heat at the Rio Olympics, her north-east roots will be obvious.

Several years after leaving life in Northumberland, the distinctive accent is still abundantly clear.

So too is the importance of her new surroundings and any medal in South America will be very much made in Leeds.

Weightman, 25, will step out at her second Olympics this weekend after a dream debut in London 2012.

In what was her first major championships for Great Britain, a 21-year-old Weightman exceeded all expectations by qualifying for the 1,500m final in which she finished a highly creditable 11th behind British number one Lisa Dobriskey. Owing to the disqualification of winner Aslı Çakır Alptekin plus Natallia Kareiva and Ekaterina Kostetskaya, Weightman’s finishing position has since been upgraded to eighth.

Four years later, the quest to make a second Olympics final began with this morning’s heats ahead of tomorrow’s semi-final and Tuesday’s final if all goes according to plan.

Expect particular interest from GB’s former world champion and 1984 Olympics silver medallist Steve Cram who is Weightman’s coach, stemming from the duo’s north-east roots.

The year 2010, though, saw relocation to Leeds to begin a degree at Leeds Beckett University – with Weightman adamant that the move to Yorkshire’s biggest city is responsible for her becoming a two-time Olympian at the age of 25.

“Leeds is a big part of me and training in Leeds is what has got me to where I am now,” Weightman told the YEP. “My life is Leeds and if I hadn’t have made that move to Leeds I wouldn’t be surrounded by some of the key people who work with me on a day to day basis.

“I think I am very lucky in what Leeds has offered me as a city, it’s an incredible place to live and train, I absolutely love it and I don’t see myself moving for quite a long time yet.

“My physio is there – Alison Rose – my massage therapist Ian Mitchell is there and the university’s athletics club’s Andy Henderson is there.

“They are three key people in my support network who work alongside my coach Steve Cram and also my new strength and conditioning coach Dave Mitchell.

“They are all at the university and all based within a mile of where I live so those key people – the four of them – work closely with Steve and it works so well.

“I have graduated from university and now I am just focusing on living and training full time and I enjoy the opportunity to do that.

“It’s the perfect place as you are so central, you can live and train and I have got friends there. I just think it really is a good set up.”

Another key part of that set up is Weightman’s house mate who also benefits from the city’s excellent sporting facilities. Triathlete Heather Sellars did not make the plane to Rio but – like Weightman – has made stellar progress over the last six years. It may even be that Tokyo 2020 is on her long term agenda.

Weightman explained: “Rio wasn’t on the radar for Heather and Heather has gone on an incredible journey as she only took up triathlon when she did university six years ago. For her to go from having never ran to now being a key training partner of Non Stanford – competing at World Series and European Championships herself – I think that’s so incredible that she has gone on that journey. Tokyo? I’m not sure. She might retire and have babies by then.”

At just 25, Tokyo should certainly also feature on Weightman’s long-term agenda, but the bid to make a third Olympics can wait for another day. First comes the rather enormous matter of bidding for a first ever Olympic medal at Rio 2016.

“I think ultimately in 1,500m anything can happen,” said Weightman. “You never know if you can get on that start line at the final. But you have got to get there first. I think I have achieved goal one, I have made the Olympic Games and I think now you want to get through those rounds and you want to make that final.

“I think it would be a big ask to say I am going in there aiming for a medal but I do think making that final would be my realistic aim and then who knows.

“I think there are a few athletes who are running particularly well this year so obviously Laura Muir of Great Britain – she is running fantastically well, but also Faith Kipyegon – she’s miles ahead of he rest at the moment in terms of how quick she’s running.

“But there’s also a few injuries and a few people missing so there is space open there for other athletes to come through.”