Be careful what you wish for.
Seb Coe, the President of World Athletics, told assembled media at the very end of December 2023 that he wants the very top competition in every WA Champs event.
I recall Seb’s smile when he gave Jake Wightman his medal in Eugene. I also recall Seb smiling with Josh Kerr and his win in Budapest! Josh Kerr gives Stuart Weir a rather intimate view into this level of competition, and as a fan of World Athletics, please enjoy this first part of the Josh Kerr Interview from senior writer for Europe, Stuart Weir.
Josh Kerr meets the GB athletics writers, Part 1
Josh Kerr took time out before Christmas to chat to the GB athletics writers. He is always a witty and engaging interviewee. The discussion inevitably turned to the Paris Olympics. “I focus on the one day. August 6th is my day, and I know that one by heart it’s just going to be everything working back from that moment, and we’ll get there”. He added in terms of his ability to get it right on the day that he had run a season’s best or personal best in every major final since 2019.
Doha 2019, Jake Wightman and Josh Kerr battle in the World Athletics final of the Men’s 1,500 meters, photo by Getty Images for British Athletics
We were interested in how life had changed for him as World Champion, meaning that he would be the favorite rather than an outsider. He seemed unfazed as usual: “I’ve gone through that stage, every part of my career. Whether it was Scotland, the UK, Europe, the US, and now the world like I’ve got to that point, and I’ve won, and I’ve had to defend, and I know how difficult it is. And it’s going to be even more difficult on the world stage. But I’m not the current Olympic champion. I am the current Olympic bronze medallist, and I’m gonna go after that gold medal, and that’s not a situation of like, ‘Oh, I feel like I deserve like to go after it’. I’ve earned everything that I’ve got in my career up to this point, and I’m going to earn the right to be in that conversation, and I’ll show that through performance. And I’ll show that through a kind of mental resilience in everything that comes. my way this year.
Josh Kerr takes the WC 1,500m title! photo by Kevin Morris
“I’ve had these Olympics circled for a very, very long time, 12 years to be exact. And I realized at that point, at 26, I would be at the peak of my career and for the 1500. it made sense that this would be the one. So, I’m excited to continue that dream. I’m very close. I look back sometimes and think, if I could dream up of a situation of coming into the year as a current World Champion and already having an Olympic bronze medal, I wouldn’t be in a much better position than I am right now. So I’m going into 2024 with confidence, and yeah, I’ve been dreaming about this one for a long time, and it means a lot to me this. I’m just there to do a job. Obviously, we need to get through the selection process, and it’s a very difficult team to make. and from there, I will then do my job properly and bring another medal home to Team GB, and I hope that we have multiple medals from the team”.
Coach Danny Mackey with Josh Kerr and Brooks Beasts TC teammates, photo by Paul Merca /@paulmerca70601
His coach, Danny Mackay had added an interesting perspective on the pressure of being World Champion. Mackay said that signing up for a race was no longer signing up for 4 minutes of work. It now involved “spending weeks and months leading into the event giving interviews about the race and fulfilling obligations to sponsors who want to promote his participation in the race”. Kerr adds: “It’s so difficult to deal with all this stuff on your own. I think just having people to help navigate all of it and then just having advice as well. And it means that I can get up and just see what the day looks like. But knowing that the focus of every day is training and being able to be ready to race, but also to find there is more time in the day to take opportunities to do things like this and to be able to speak my mind and speak to media and partner with some fantastic people. I think that’s part of it. And so certain things have been taken off my plate so I can open myself up to other opportunities”.
Danny Mackey, Coach of Brooks Beasts TC, photo from YouTube
He was asked if being announced as World Champion added to his confidence. He said that such announcements were very nice but added: “From a mindset standpoint, I’ve always been the same. I’ve always known I’ve had the capabilities of being the best in the world, but actually being able to do it and not just banging on the drum, of being like ‘I’m good enough, I’m good enough. I’ve been in all these finals, but I haven’t quite done it that day yet, so it’s nice to have that in the bag and knowing that my body and my mind are capable of that big moment. And so that’s kind of bled into everything that I do. And so, in terms of making sure that everything that I do is at world champion standard, which means my time is obviously very valuable, and training is at the forefront of everything. And my life is getting structured as a World Champion now versus thinking I’m good enough”.
Josh Kerr wins 1,500m photo by Getty Images for British Athletics
He returned to the issue of selection for Paris, showing that he took nothing for granted and reminding everyone that he still had to make the British team for Paris, which was no easy matter – “the British team is the hardest team to make, and there have not been that many times that we’ve been able to say that”. He developed that into a reflection on an Olympics in Europe.
TOKYO, JAPAN – AUGUST 07: Bronze medalist Josh Kerr of Team Great Britain stands on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Men’s 1500m on day fifteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 07, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images) for British Athletics
“We have a big year of sport next year, and when it comes to going to Paris, we’re gonna be just surrounded by amazing athletes. So I I’ve definitely got a big job ahead. You want to win when people care. And that’s what I feel like I did this year at Worlds in Budapest. I want to win when everyone’s at their best. You don’t dream about having an off-year win. You dream about racing down to the line and dipping and getting it by a vest’s width and hopefully running away with a gold medal.
Josh Kerr with Media, Budapest, August 2023, photo by Stuart Weir
There’s a great rivalry between Jakob and me where we both want the same thing and we’re not willing to make that sacrifice of being like, ‘Oh, you can have this one’ kind of thing. And I think it will be building up for a pretty exciting year in 1500 because, I mean, across the board, every country has someone that’s going to represent them that is good enough to medal. I think it’s very exciting from our point of view that it’s a lot of Europeans and a lot of British athletes who are among the favorites”.
Josh Kerr, Jake Wightman, a few years ago, photo from Scottish Athletics
It adds another dimension that one of his rivals, the 2022 World Champion, Jake Wightman, is a close friend, both of them starting as boys in the same Edinburgh club. “I text him probably every month or so just to check in to see how he’s doing and probably give him some shit that I get left out some meets because of him – I’m not allowed to run the New Balance in whatever event he’s running, I think I got the mile or the K or whichever one he wasn’t doing. It’s just the relationship we have. We kind of go back and forth at each other, but also, like he went through exactly what I’m going through right now in being a World Champion and there’s lots of external pressure and there’s lots of much more media interest. So I’m kind of asking questions and stuff like that as well. He’s a fantastic friend of mine and I always want the best for him as well as he wants the best for me. But when that gun goes off, we’re going to be battling this year for sure. I just want him to be like back to what Jake Wightman does, and that’s consistent, fantastic performances and just raising the profile of Edinburgh AC”.
A close one, as Josh Kerr nips Jake Wightman at the line, June 26, 2021, British Trials, photo by Getty Images for British Athletics