EUAN CRUMLEY SPEAKS TO JAKOB INGEBRIGTSEN, THE TEENAGE TALENT WHO TOOK EUROPE BY STORM IN 2018 BUT NOW HAS BIGGER TARGETS IN MIND
JAKOB INGEBRIGTSEN loves cars. “I got my driver’s licence the day I turned 18 and I’m picking up a new car in February,” he says. “I’m really looking forward to that.
“I have a lot of dream cars. If it’s a fast one and an expensive one then it has to be good.”
Going fast, of course, is what this teenager does best and the fact that his 18th birthday was only in September serves as another reminder of how impressive his achievements in 2018 have been.
His is a name which many within the athletics world have been aware of for some time, given his habit for breaking new ground in the age groups.
He ran 3:48.37 for 1500m when he was just 14, reduced that to 3:42.44 at 15 and then became the youngest ‘man’ ever to break the four-minute mile when he clocked 3:58.07. His age at the time? 16.
In 2018, as a 17-year-old, he took the world’s breath away.
Ahead of the European Championships in the summer, Ingebrigtsen was making headlines again after running a 3:31.18 1500m at the Diamond League meeting in Monaco, smashing the European under-20 record by over four seconds. To give a little context, Steve Cram’s best for the distance was 3:29.67, while Sebastian Coe’s was 3:29.77.
Yet that had come off the back of a world under-20 championships in which he had had to settle for 1500m silver and 5000m bronze, so surely the grown-ups wouldn’t have too much to worry about at the Olympic stadium, would they?
As it turned out, he made that famous sporting stage look like home. His brother Filip was defending 1500m champion but a rib injury sustained in the semi-final was a fatal blow to his challenge. Henrik, the eldest of the international athletic siblings, might then have a shot of winning back the title he lifted in 2012. Not this time.
As the race unfolded, it almost felt possible to see Jakob growing in stature with every stride as he wound up the pace in the closing two laps and kicked away to win in 3:38.10. He was now the
youngest ever senior male European champion.
Many of the sport’s experts were still getting their head around that teenage kick when, 23 hours later, onlookers really began to run out of superlatives for the Norwegian.
There is a calm, understated confidence about Jakob which is a trademark of his performances and, when he exchanged a high five with Henrik midway through the 5000m final, it was clear this was not an athlete suffering with nerves or struggling with the exertions of the previous day.
He changed gear in the closing laps and was in complete control as he crossed the line first in 13:17.06, breaking his own European under-20 record and becoming the first man ever to achieve the 1500m/5000m double at the European Championships.
Jakob is precisely the kind of young athlete which those in charge of the sport are so desperate to see emerge in the post-Bolt era and many already see him as a star.
The man himself, however, is not one of them. Speaking with
AW not long after completing an historic hat-trick of European cross country under-20 titles in Tilburg, Holland, he cut a relaxed figure. Contentment, however, is still a long way off.
“It feels okay (being seen as a star) but I have one more step to go to reach the world level,” he says. “That’s obviously my main goal now – to keep developing, keep putting in the hard work and get better. I want to be the best runner in the world.
“When I’m the world’s best runner, with world records and major championship titles, that’s when I will be satisfied with my career. Until then, I know that I can be better. I’ll try to get there.”
Under the guidance of coach and father Gjert, and with training partners Henrik and
Filip driving each other on, it seems there is little chance of complacency creeping in.
“It (success) probably has something to do with my two older brothers,” smiles Jakob. “We have our kind of philosophy and our way of training – and it seems to work pretty well. But I think we can be even better. There’s no reason to be satisfied with what we have done so far.
“We’re helping each other a lot and we learn a lot from each other. I’m probably the one who has learned the most from them. They’ve made all the mistakes, I’ve learned from that and made no mistakes!”
He adds: “Of course it’s an advantage for us to be three people in one training group that can run super fast.
“It’s funny because every year we run faster in training, even though the year before we didn’t think it was possible to run faster. We keep on pushing each other and I think in that way we are helping each other to eventually be some of the best runners in the world.”
He adds: “For us, it’s in our nature (to push hard and see what’s possible). We’ve always had a competitive family – in everything we are going to win.
“It can be hard sometimes in training. You have to prove yourself as being a good runner and ‘win’ in training but we also know it’s the competition that counts.”
Jakob singles the thrill of competition out as being what he loves most about his chosen sport. He is an athlete who runs without fear.
“I believe in myself and I always think that I can win,” he says. “If I don’t believe in myself going into a race then I’ve already lost. I just have to do the right things in every race then hopefully I’m going to win.
“I’ve been a runner as long as I can remember. I’ve always kept my focus on running and nothing else. That way, eventually you kind of adapt to both the rhythm in running and you get used to the competitions, the mindset and everything. I believe, if you want to be number one, then that’s the way to do it.”
Is it that wealth of experience which helps him make it all look so easy?
“It’s not easy but I’ve run for a lot of years and I’m still just 18. I’ve probably been into running 10 years before everyone else.
“There’s nothing easy about it. I’ve been running with my brothers every week, every year, basically since I was born so there’s nothing easy to it. You have to keep going and, even if you feel bad one day, you just have to do what it takes. Not every session has to be better or good, you just need to get out there.”
When this new motorist looks in the rearview mirror, he takes some satisfaction from the landmarks that have signposted his journey so far. However, his main interest is on the road ahead and a year on the track which features the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow and will reach a climax at the IAAF World Championships in Doha.
“Looking back to what I’ve done, it feels pretty good,” he says. “Having that at your back going into training periods and other competitions is really motivating and it makes me want to do even more. That’s the main thing.”
Team Ingebrigtsen: (l to r) Henrik, Jakob and Filip