The Impossible Games

Norwegians dominate virtual races

Team Ingebrigtsen

Photo: Vidar Ruud / NTB scanpix
Team Ingebrigtsen, Per Svela, Narve Gilje Nordås, Jakob, Henrik and Filip Ingebrigtsen, in action during the 2,000 meter race for men at the Impossible Games at Bislett Stadium on June 11. Jakob, Henrik, and Filip finished 1-2-3 beating Kenya in a virtual race. Jakob set the European record.


Impossible Games

Photo: Lise Åserud / NTB scanpix
Determined fans rented a lift to watch the Impossible Games from outside Bislett Stadium.

When traditional track and field competitions became impossible to organize because of COVID-19, the organizers of Bislett Games, in cooperation with the Oslo municipality, found a way around the restrictions. The organizers brought some of the best track and field athletes together virtually and in-person amid the pandemic, and the event on June 11 saw several records fall despite the smaller fields and unorthodox competitions.

In a nearly empty Bislett Stadium, with the exception of cardboard cutouts placed in the stands, a handful of journalists from selected media outlets, and those lucky enough to have a balcony in one of the surrounding apartment buildings, the athletes competed in somewhat unusual events. 

Jakob Ingebrigtsen

Lise Åserud / NTB scanpix
Jakob Ingebrigtsen set the European record in the 2,000 meters at the Impossible Games at empty Bislett Stadium on June 11.

Karsten Warholm broke the world record in the 300-meter hurdles. Jakob Ingebrigtsen broke the European record in the 2,000 meters, while Filip Ingebrigtsen shattered Vebjørn Rodahl’s old Norwegian record in the 1,000 meters.

The 2,000-meter race was presented in a way no one has seen before. It was set up as a Norway versus Kenya competition, where two teams of five, the Norwegian team in Oslo and the Kenyan team in Kenya, raced against each other virtually. Team Ingebrigtsen (brothers Jakob, Filip, and Henrik Ingebrigtsen and training partners Narve Gilje Nordås and Per Svela) versus Team Cheruiyot (Timothy Cheruiyot plus training partners Elijah Motonei Manangoi, Vincent Kibet Keter, Edwin Melly, and Timothy Sein). The best average time of the three fastest runners on each team would decide which team would come out on top. 

Jakob Ingebrigtsen ended up breaking the European record in the distance, crossing the finish line in the time of 4:50.01. Oldest brother Henrik finished second in 4:53.72, and Filip followed third in 4:56.91, about 45 minutes after his 1,000-meter race.

The Kenyans, facing difficult weather conditions a few days before, ran about 10 seconds slower than the Norwegians and have jokingly expressed their desire for a rematch. “This promises extremely well for the upcoming 1,500 meters season,” said Jakob Ingebrigtsen to NTB. “A big thank you to the cruise liners who did a great job. It’s wonderful when everything is right. It’s boring just to train and not run. It’s the worst, so getting a race is extremely fun.”

In a similar and just as unique competition, world record holding pole vaulter Mondo Duplantis would compete against recorded attempts from former Olympic gold medalist Renaud Lavillenie that were recorded on June 9 from his garden in France. Duplantis won the competition after vaulting 5.86 meters.

Warholm, last seen as a World Champion in Doha last year, lost his chance at an Olympic gold medal when the Tokyo Olympics were postponed earlier this year. However, the postponement does not seem to have put a damper on Warholm’s progress. Without competitors, in an empty stadium, Warholm absolutely shattered the world record on the 300-meter hurdles with the time 33.78.

Photo Lise Åserud / NTB scanpix
Cross-country ski star Therese Johaug rejoices after running the 10,000 meters for women at the Impossible Games at Bislett Stadium on June 11.

In the last event of the evening, Norwegian cross-country skiing star Therese Johaug would try to run fast enough to qualify for the 10,000-meter in the World Championship. The 31-year-old won the Norwegian championship last year with the time of 32:20.86 and on June 11, Johaug ran 10,000 meters in 31:40.69, the fourth best time in Norwegian history. The World Cup qualifying time is 31:50. That might have helped her out a bit.

“It was fun, and I felt that I hit the opening momentum compared to NM [Norwegian Championship] last year,” Johaug told NTB. “Now I had better control along the way and managed to run more relaxed. I haven’t run so much on track before, and it was useful for me. I am a cross-country skier. I am very happy with the time today, but I will not embark on any athletics venture. This is only motivation and inspiration for the cross-country investment. I’ve been in the game for a long time, and it’s fun to test yourself in new arenas.”

The Impossible Games became a success. When the organizers started planning the event, Bislett Games-boss Steinar Hoen had imagined an hour on NRK (the Norwegian state TV channel), he said in the event’s press conference. It ended up being broadcast in more than 100 countries. 

This article originally appeared in the June 26, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.