Spikes27 Jul 2015

Hey there, big guy


Andrew Wheating

The world must feel like a very small place to middle distance ace Andrew Wheating. The 6ft 6ins (1.98m) American, who this weekend won 1500m gold at the Pan-Am Games, stands head and shoulders above most of his rivals. SPIKES gets to grips with this particularly tall tale.

Andrew Wheating is very, very tall. Maybe not by shot putter or high jumper standards, but in middle distance circles he is positively Brobdingnagian in a land of Lilliputians (a reference for all the Gulliver's Travels fans out there).

There are other tall middle distance figures: world record holding Olympic 800m champ David Rudisha and world 1500m gold medalist Asbel Kiprop both clock in around the 1.90m mark; four-time 1500m Australian national champ Jeff Riseley stands at an imposing 1.92m.

Yet even they are positive midgets compared to lofty Wheating, whose ma and pa both knock at the door of a house at the bottom of Six Foot Avenue. “My mum's side in particular are very tall,” he says. You got dem genes, boy!

In sporting terms, Wheating first found success on the basketball court (no surprise there) and soccer field (where a physical presence always helps). It was aged 17 when the Oregon Duck-to-be discovered his ability on the running track – not always a natural place for taller gentlemen to flourish.

“I’ve given up hope of finding a draft buddy!” he says with a laugh. “But in all honesty, my height gives me hope of having greater races ahead of me if I can combine the power, stride length and endurance.

“If you look at David Rudisha and Usain Bolt, they manage to combine all these elements to produce amazing performances. If I can get all those things right on the day there is no telling what can happen.”

But being a big un is not always so neat. He has yet to find an athlete who is capable of blocking the wind for him, and because of his height he has to pay closer attention to staying out of trouble in tight races. Wheating admits that unless the race is strung out he finds it very hard to run on the inside lane.

“I often can't open out my stride much and have to stay outside of lane one. Outside of the riff raff,” he says. Quite right.

His height can also create the odd comedic moment. Wheating was drawn in the same lane as Alfred Yego when competing in the 800m at the 2010 London Grand Prix in Crystal Palace. The 2007 world champ is officially listed as 1.75m, some inches short of his lane partner that day.

“They introduced myself and Alfred Yego. When I looked up at the screen they showed him, and next to him is this big figure that goes right up the top of the frame. It was me,” he adds, laughing at the memory.

Other tall athletes

Tall Athletes

Blanka Vlasic – High Jump – 1.94m

Taller than many of her male counterparts, the Croatian has used her height to her advantage. She won back-to-back world titles in 2007 and 2009, and cleared 2.08m in Zagreb in '09 to rank her second best in history.

Jeremy Scott – Pole Vault – 2.06m

'The world's tallest pole vaulter' may not have won a slew of major international medals, but the Nebraskan has earned some significant success including taking the 2009 US Indoor title. He has also cleared a best of 5.82m.

Tomasz Majewski – Shot Put – 2.04m

The “Silent Giant” may be a man of few words, but the Pole knows how to perform when it counts. He secured the 2008 and 2012 Olympic titles in the men's shot, becoming the first European in history to do so.

Virgilijus Alekna – Discus – 2.02m

The former bodyguard to the Lithuanian Prime Minister enjoyed a glittering career highlighted by two Olympic and two world titles. His 2.22m wingspan is just as impressive as his height.

Ingo Schultz – 400m – 2.01m

In a fleeting but successful career, the giant German landed 2001 world silver and 2002 European gold in the one-lap event.