In a world-class field that included the men who finished second, third and fourth in the Olympic final last summer: Timothy Cheruiyot, Josh Kerr and Abel Kipsang, all were upstaged by Ollie Hoare.
The Australian timed his sprint to the line to perfection to win gold for the first time for his country in this distance at these Games since the great Herb Elliot in 1958.
Wightman, whose father Geoff was commentating on the race as he won his world title in Eugene, had to settle for bronze with Kenya Cheruiyot taking silver.
“It was the best I could have done,” said the recently crowned world champion. “I didn’t want to be a pedestrian and run for minor medals. I wanted to make a statement, but I didn’t feel as good as I did a few weeks ago. I’m not buzzing but I’m relieved.
The novelty of being world champion made Wightman the pre-race favorite – level with the bookies for a second gold medal in just under three weeks.
In the build-up to the Games, he had toyed with giving up that race, but said the chance to compete for Team Scotland combined with the potential regret of not competing prompted him to enter. He also sought the advice of another former British athletics world champion, Christine Ohuruogu, who said he had gone from hunter to hunter and the rest of the ground would be scratched for him.
In a race that could have been won by any number of different riders, the 28-year-old was undeniably the marked man and physically jostled for position heading into the second lap in a fiercely competitive field.
Cheruiyot and Kipsang set the tone with two and a half laps to go while Wightman moved up to third at the bell. As he had done at Worlds, he kicked early to take the lead with a half turn to go. This time there was to be no repetition.
While in his one-on-one with Jakob Ingebrigtsen he had enough in the tank to stay ahead, he fainted when Cheruiyot passed him before Hoare timed his dive to perfection for gold, the time Australian of 3:30.12 a Games record.
Reflecting on the race, Wightman added, “I would have hated to run the 800m or not run at all and see that race unfold and think I would have loved to be in it. I put it online. To hang for a bronze which I am happy with.
“Hopefully I don’t get beat down too much for not winning it as world champion. But people don’t realize how high those world championships were, two weeks is nothing to reset. “
For Wightman it was a final 1500m race of a busy season before he once again turned his sights to competing in British colors in the short distance 800m at the upcoming European Championships.