Josh Kerr: Commonwealth Games stadium an absolute blessing for British athletes

Exclusive interview: The Scot hopes to bounce back from fifth in the World Championships in pursuit of another medal after Olympic bronze last year, with the Alexander Stadium set to host the athletics at the Commonwealth Games

<p>Josh Kerr is excited to perform in front of a crowds at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium</p>

Josh Kerr is excited to perform in front of a crowds at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium

As Jake Wightman tilted back in disbelief, Josh Kerr soon arrived, shaking his teammate from the red-hot Eugene track into a new reality as world 1,500m champion.

A breathtaking dash home from 200m out saw the Scot take down Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen in a tactical masterpiece to snatch gold. Kerr had lined up just four minutes earlier brimming with confidence as his golden sunglasses repelled the glare of the Oregon flood lights and the Tokyo bronze medalist’s look was complete with an impeccably trimmed hair and beard combination.

There was immense belief that Kerr could upgrade the bronze seized in Tokyo a year earlier, but instead he crossed the line barely a second behind Wightman in fifth place (3:30.60), roles reversed from a year earlier when his teammate languished back in 10th. His subsequent actions revealed the character and Team GB’s tight bond.

"I wanted to make sure that Wightman felt that moment, held onto it and remembered it for the rest of his life,” Kerr remarked. “I owe him that from last year.”

It was a revealing moment; Kerr’s bravado often looks out of place on the track and his true character radiated through the red and blue striped vest seconds after a disappointing fifth.

Jake Wightman is congratulated by his compatriot Josh Kerr

“I’m just looking to have fun and compete against other good guys,” Kerr tells The Independent when discussing competition and rivalry in athletics. “But if somebody says something or does something I don’t agree with then I’ll say something about it.

“If that creates a bit of beef and a little bit of chat, a bit of hype around the event, then that’s cool with me.”

Kerr is clearly a showman, as demonstrated when he broke the European and British indoor mile records (3:48.87) earlier this year before revealing ‘British record’ scribbled on his spikes - a move provoked after feeling “ballsy” the night before.

With British medals in consecutive major championships, Wightman, Kerr and Scotland specifically enter the Commonwealth Games eager for more success, knowing the Alexander Stadium could be pivotal and inspire home success. Kerr, based in New Mexico, is relishing a new hub for British athletics in Birmingham.

“It’s so great to get the crowds back, it’s so important, we missed that so much in Tokyo and it felt like nobody was watching,” Kerr says. “I’m in these races to learn.

“If Birmingham airport wants to get a direct flight from Albuquerque, that would be ideal, but the travel is not too bad. This stadium is an absolute blessing for UK athletes to have.

“The crowds come out and if we put on some great performances, then they’ll keep coming back and it will help to grow the sport. The Commonwealth Games are going to be incredible.”

So while the World Championships are over, Birmingham is here and the European Championships offer a rare chance at three golds in as many ‘majors’ in one summer due to the Covid backlog, although Wightman is only entered in the 800m for Munich. Sebastian Coe has hinted at Wightman capitalising on his “purple patch” and a hat-trick of wins would see him “technically end up as the most successful British middle distance runner we have ever had.”

This generation is finally enabling comparisons to the golden era of Coe, Steve Ovett, Steve Cram and Peter Elliott, with Mo Farah’s 1,500m British record (3:28.81) now sitting precariously, with Kerr bullish about his chances to make history, with the men’s 1,500m heats starting on Thursday.

“There are records you want to go after, but it’s not the overall goal,” Kerr explains “You just want to be in the best shape possible to compete at Olympics, World Championships and Commonwealth Games. It was a solid time for me last year, and that’s a great thing, but it’s not the overriding goal. I’ll run the British record at some point in my career, I’m just not sure when that will be.”

Keely Hodgkinson of Great Britain celebrates her silver medal

Keely Hodgkinson doubled up her Olympic silver with second in Eugene with a thrilling chase to the line against Athing Mu. Amid evident disappointment, Hodgkinson looked primed to channel that frustration into claiming a maiden gold medal on the global stage in Birmingham.

Hodgkinson’s main competition could come from Kenya’s Mary Moraa, who edged her out in Stockholm earlier this year. There is also immense depth in the shape of Olympic finalist Alex Bell and Scotland’s Jemma Reekie and Laura Muir, with the latter aiming to double in the 800m and 1,500m.

Muir endured the ferocious pace set by Faith Kipyegon and Gudaf Tsegay in Eugene to coast to a bronze, and with the Kenyan likely absent here, there’s a real chance for gold in Birmingham to complete the set after silver in Tokyo.

Great Britain’s Laura Muir celebrates winning bronze in Eugene

With Dina Asher-Smith succumbing to the injury that dashed hopes of a Great Britain 4x100 relay medal in Eugene, opportunity knocks for Daryll Neita in the women’s 100m. Cruelly denied a place in the Eugene final despite running 10.97 to place third place in her semi-final, Neita will hope to compete for a medal should with only Elaine Thompson-Herah in Jamaica’s squad as Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson opt to swerve Birmingham ahead of a busy conclusion to the Diamond League season.

And there could yet be fireworks in the men’s 100m, with Wales’ Jeremiah Azu looking to bounce off his shock British title. Reece Prescod is also in contention after anchoring Team GB to bronze in the relay, while Zharnel Hughes focuses on the 200m. Competition in the 100m comes from South Africa’s defending champion Akani Simbine and Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala, who was hampered in Eugene due to visa and travel chaos. The Games’ record of 9.88 looks to be in trouble.

The Alexander Stadium is ready, it’s time to deliver.

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