THE men’s world 1500m champion, whose family come from the Wye Valley, has backed a fundraising campaign to save the county’s only competition standard athletics track.
Jake Wightman, son of Woolhope-raised Olympic runner Susan Tooby, has pledged his support to save the Hereford Athletics track.
A campaign has been launched to raise £350,000 to re-lay it, which if it fails would leave Herefordshire as the only county in England without a competition-standard track.
Wightman, who stormed to world title glory in the US last July, said: “Hoping the total can be made, with family deep rooted in Herefordshire and athletics, this would be a great loss.”
Laid in 1988, the state of the county’s only accredited track at Hereford Leisure Centre is hampering the training, performance and development of local athletes, and could soon lead to it losing its competition licence from the sport’s governing body England Athletics.
As reported in the Gazette, a Dawn to Dusk run at the track on January 2 to highlight the problem drew around 150 runners from several of the county’s athletics clubs, including from MonRoss Trail Blazers.
“The track has got into its current condition due to years of under-investment,” said association secretary Ben Skinner, who helped organise the Dawn to Dusk run. This was more of a awareness event, making people understand that investment is desperately required, and has already started some good conversations”, he said.
The popularity of running in the county is growing, partly due to the rise of regular, informal Parkrun events, he said.
But if the funding target is not reached, “the only track facility in the county will not gain future licenses to host meetings and events – a fundamental part of the development of our county’s athletes”, he warned.
“The track would be able to host training sessions, but without these meeting and events we are worried about its long-term future.”
The track, along with the rest of the leisure centre, is owned and managed by Halo Leisure.
Its partnership manager Alex Haines said: “We are working closely with the running clubs to explore all funding opportunities for the resurfacing of the running track. Funds are currently being raised by local fundraising efforts and Halo Leisure is also proactively investigating wider grants and financial support.”
Wightman’s mum Susan and her identical sister Angela both had successful distance careers in the 1980s running for GB and Wales.
Jake’s grandmother Rosemary, who died last year, was an avid supporter of British Athletics, travelling the world in support of her daughters and grandchildren.
She spent most of her life working for outward bound firm PGL based in Ross, and was well known in the town.
Jake’s father Geoff, who was also a champion GB marathon runner before becoming his son’s trainer and an athletics commentator, has also backed the campaign.
He said his wife Susan and her sister and himself had trained on the track track.
“It would be shameful for Herefordshire to be the only county in England not able to host athletics,” he told the BBC..
“It’s a pretty well-used track, all round. There’s school opportunities, there’s club opportunities.
“But... competition is the thing that keeps you going. It took my wife and her sister from that track to the Olympic Games in ‘88, so you just never know who you’re encouraging.”
“I think Jake’s actually trained on that track, he may not remember it, it was a long time ago.
“I think it just needs the good will at a reasonably high level within Herefordshire for this to gain traction.
“It’ll be a negative story coming out of Herefordshire and I don’t think anybody wants that,” he added.
You can donate to the save the track campaign at www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/herefordathleticstrack