Teenage Ingebrigtsen outruns his family
The youngest in a famously fast family, Jakob is already bringing home gold medals
Jo Christian Weldingh
Jakob Ingebrigtsen, a high-school student, shocked European athletics audiences by winning two historic gold medals in the European championship in Berlin last month, but the youngster from Sandnes has even bigger goals on his agenda.
“My goal is to become one of the best runners in the world, and this is a big step in the right direction,” he said to the press only hours after winning his second gold medal.
Jakob, the younger brother of Filip, 25, and Henrik Ingebrigtsen, 27, both gold-medal runners, introduced himself to the European audience with a bang. The 17-year-old showed that no one in Europe is better in the 5,000 meters or 1,500 meters, but that’s not enough for the kid from Sandnes. Next year, there’s a World Championship in Doha, Qatar, and in two years we have the Olympics in Tokyo. He won the 1,500 meters on Aug. 10, with a time of 3:38.10, with Henrik fourth (3:38.50) and Filip 12th (3:14.66). Henrik and Filip have already won gold in the event.
A day later, Jakob set a European and U20 record of 13:17.06 in winning the 5,000 meters, with Henrik second (13:18.75).
Filip showed last year, with his bronze in the 1,500 meters, that European runners are able to compete with the very best.
Experts, both in Norway and in the rest of the world, have been worried about how early Jakob has reached such a high level of performance. Some have gone as far as claiming he has peaked too soon and will burn out. When asked about this, Jakob smiles, “Only time will tell. I can still increase how much I train and I will certainly be able to develop both tactically and mentally.”
The Ingebrigtsen family’s way of doing things, with early specialization and training hard from a young age, stands in stark contrast with the traditional Norwegian approach to sports education, which states that children’s sports should first and foremost be about fun, and this has led to a polarizing debate in the news media.
One of Jakob’s strengths is his versatility. In last year’s World Championship, when he was 16, he ran the 3,000-meter steeplechase, and this year he wins the European Championship in the 1,500 meters and 5,000 meters.
“What’s unique about Jakob is his ability to run so many different distances,” father and coach Gjert Ingebrigtsen says. “The challenge is to the pick the right ones. He would have been just as good in the 800 meters as he is in 1,500 and 5,000.”
Henrik doesn’t hesitate when asked about which distance his youngest brother should choose. “For us, the 1,500 meters is the ultimate distance and it always has been. We wouldn’t say no thanks to a gold medal in another distance, but there’s something special about the 1,500 meters for all three of us,” he says.
Jakob also talks about the 1,500 meters, a distance that has been dominated by African runners for decades. In last year’s World Championships, Filip was beaten by two runners from Kenya, and in the U20 World Championship earlier this year, Jakob was beaten by Kenyan runner George Manangoi.
Jakob’s best time is 3:31.18 in Monaco on July 20. According to VG statistics expert Geir Juva, over the last 35 years, 14 Olympic, World, and/or European champions have attained that time or better, but only one teenager, 17-year-old Noah Ngeny of Kenya in 1998. Two years later, at 19, Ngeny won Olympic gold in 3:31.01.
“We will work hard to become a nation of 1,500-meter runners, and I hope Team Ingebrigtsen will be able to deal with the African dominance,” said Jakob. “We will only get better.”
Jo Christian Weldingh grew up in Lillehammer, Norway, and lives in Oslo. He has a bachelor’s degree in archaeology from the University of Oslo and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from BI Norwegian Business School.
This article originally appeared in the September 21, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.