Sam Curtin, Deputy Sports Editor
While most Irish eyes were set on the green contingent in Torun, Poland, most of the European athletics community were glued to the sport’s latest prodigy in Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway. The 20-year-old Norwegian completed an historic 1500 and 3000m double two weeks ago and did so with relative ease and maturity for such a young age.
Widely touted as the most talented of the Ingebrigtsen’s – we’ll get to that in a moment – Jakob was just 14 when he ran 3:48.37 for 1500m and shaved 6 seconds off of this a year later. At 16 he became the youngest ever to break the 4-minute mile running 3:58.07. A year later at the European Championships, Jakob won both the 1500m and 5000m on his senior tournament bow becoming the youngest winner ever, at just 17 years of age, and the first athlete ever to complete the double. Barely believable in any walk of life, never mind senior athletics.
That is not the most interesting part of this young man’s life however, this is an athlete that was literally born to run. The Norwegian was born into a famed running family which is one of the most renowned in the sport. Trained by his father Gjert, Jakob began high performance training at 9 doing things which wouldn’t look out of place in Rocky III. His two older brothers Henrik and Filip are both former European champions while two other brothers left the sport at an earlier age, meanwhile there are two more younger siblings coming through the ranks. All of the family’s fortunes can be seen in the documentary series ‘Team Ingebrigtsen’ which is available on YouTube and is well worth a watch.
Looking in from the outside however, the trio are viewed as more of a family pop group rather than a running force. All three still live and train in their hometown Sandness in Norway. When speaking about his family, Jakob said that “I’ve been a professional runner since I was 8, 9, 10 years old. I’ve been training, dedicated and following a good structure, the same as my brothers from an early age.”
What’s next for Ingebrigtsen? All roads lead to Tokyo for the delayed Olympic Games which will provide the platform for Jakob to become a global athletics superstar at the ‘greatest show on earth”. Jakob has yet to win a global medal but if he can bring the form and a bit of youthful innocence, there’s no telling what he could do in Tokyo. Dare I say, a gold medal may be unlikely but silver or bronze could very well be up for grabs if he can match the teams that Kenya, America and Ethiopia will bring to the Games in what is a stacked 1500 and 5000m field. As his father said before, “this is not a game for soft, emotional people, that’s just how it is.” Incredibly, Gjert manages to juggle coaching his family with a full-time job in finance. All round an incredible athlete and an incredible family who we will be hearing a lot more about for years to come.
Ingebrigtsen is not the only young prodigy, however. British 800m runner Keely Hodgkinson became the youngest gold medal winner in 51 years at just 19 years old and did it in style. This success capped a fantastic few months for the Briton who added this gold to her national outdoor victory last year and has also just recently broken the U20 world record. If she can remain focused and injury free, an interesting Olympics could be ahead and while a medal would be a big surprise, there is no doubt that the fruits of British athletics labour is coming through in the form of a very special athlete.
An honorary mention must go to Longford’s 18 year old Cian McPhillips who reached the semi finals of the 800m in a time of 1:48.06 to finish 4th in perhaps the most competitive event in the sport. Combine this with a European Junior record and the future is very bright for this remarkable young man. His next foe will now be the Leaving Cert and if he can translate this form from the track into the classroom, then one would imagine he will breeze through it.
In last issue’s article on the state of athletics, I mentioned that the sport needed a new global superstar to make the sport relevant in the mainstream media again. Judging by what’s coming out of Norway and Britain, It’s very possible that my prayers have been answered. Bring on Tokyo.