After conquering Europe, teen sensation Jakob Ingebrigtsen aims to join global elite

Having claimed two senior European track titles last year, the 18-year-old hopes to make his mark at the 2019 World Championships.
By Rory Jiwani

Jakob Ingebrigtsen is one of the hottest properties in athletics right now.

The Norwegian made the world sit up and take notice last August at the European Championships, claiming two golds in Berlin aged just 17.

His big target for 2019 is the IAAF World Championships in Doha before attention turns towards Tokyo 2020.

"When I stand on the startline I believe I can win, because that’s the only thing that matters." - Jakob Ingebrigtsen talking to the Telegraph in March

Jakob Ingebrigtsen celebrates after winning the 1500m at the 2018 European Championships in Berlin

Making his mark

The Ingebrigtsens are something of a running dynasty in Norwegian athletics.

Jakob is the youngest of three brothers with eldest brother Henrik, 28, European champion at 1500m in 2012.

Filip, 25, took the title in 2016 and bronze at the 2017 World Championships.

Team Ingebrigtsen (L-R): Henrik, Jakob, Filip

The three siblings were all in the 2018 final with Filip qualifying despite falling and breaking a rib in his semi-final.

With two laps to go, the trio were at the head of the field with young Jakob at the front.

The teenager gradually wound up the pace on the final lap before kicking away and holding off the fast-finishing Marcin Lewandowski to become the youngest European champion in history.

Jakob Ingebrigtsen wins the 2018 European 1500m title in Berlin from Marcin Lewandowski (L) and Jake Wightman

Henrik finished fourth with Filip down in 12th due to his rib injury which ruled him out of the following day's 5000m final.

The remaining two Ingebrigtsens went to the front, and Jakob again got his tactics spot on.

With a lap to go, he increased the tempo to stretch out his rivals and kicked clear to win comfortably with Henrik taking silver.

No man had ever previously completed the European 1500/5000 double.

The teenage sensation has started this year strongly too.

He set a new U20 world indoor best in the 1500m in Dusseldorf in February, beating Ethiopia's world indoor record holder Samuel Tefera.

Ingebrigtsen then claimed the 3000m title at the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow ahead of Britain's Chris O'Hare with brother Henrik taking the bronze.

2019 European Indoors 3000m (L-R): runner-up Chris O'Hare, winner Jakob Ingebrigtsen, third-placed Henrik Ingebrigtsen

But then came his first defeat of the campaign, a narrow second in the 1500m to Lewandowski with the Pole the biggest threat to the siblings' dominance in Europe.

Running in the family

As well as being running champions, the three brothers are also stars of the small screen thanks to their documentary show on Norwegian state broadcaster NRK called Team Ingebrigtsen.

The first series was broadcast in 2016 and followed the family from 2013 through to Rio 2016.

While his elder brothers were competing internationally and building towards the Olympics, the programme followed Jakob from the age of 12 making his early steps in the junior ranks.

A second series, culminating in Jakob's success at the European Championships, was aired late last year and a third series is in the offing.

Their story is similar to that of the tennis-playing Williams sisters with father Gjert, who had no background in athletics, coaching his talented sons.

And his philosophy is somewhat at odds with the humility usually associated with Scandinavia.

The opening voiceover of the first episode describes the trio as "running brothers who set incredible records, and go against Nordic egalitarianism by saying loudly, 'We will be the best'".

And it's clearly working.

At Norway's Sports Gala, the Idrettsgalla 2019, in January, Gjert was named Norwegian sports coach of the year despite the nation's excellent PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games.

But it was Jakob who was the big winner of the night, emulating his brothers by winning the Breakthrough of the Year award and then scooping the coveted Athletes' Prize as voted for by his fellow athletes.

He received the trophy from the previous year's winner, 400m hurdles world champion Karsten Warholm.

While we await the third series of Team Ingebrigtsen, we will have to make do with Jakob's vlogs which he started in March.

His first was a look behind the scenes as he claimed his third European U20 Cross Country title in the Netherlands in December.

Keys to success

While all three Ingebrigtsen brothers are clearly talented, Jakob is the standout.

Inspired by his family, he told IAAF last year, "I've been a professional runner since I was eight, nine, 10 years old.

"I've been training, dedicated and following a good structure - the same as my brothers - from an early age."

He and his brothers have an intensive training regime, running up to 130km per week.

That might seem like a huge workload for a teenager, but more than half of that mileage is described as 'Easy' where there is neither overexertion nor a build-up of lactic acid.

Clocking up huge distances at such a young age is rare in Europe, but it is not uncommon in Africa.

Double Olympic gold medallist Haile Gebrselassie famously used to run barefoot 10km to school each day.

When he was at primary school, marathon Olympic champion and world record holder Eliud Kipchoge "used to run every day four times about five or six kilometres to and from school".

As well as his training and dedication to his craft, Ingebrigtsen has shown maturity beyond his tender years in races.

In championships - unlike Diamond League events where pacemakers ensure fast times - the Norwegian can dictate the pace from the front before 'winding it up' with 400 metres or more to go.

Despite perhaps lacking a devastating finishing burst like his rival Lewandowski, he has already shown he has what it takes to win big races.

And at just 18, he can only keep improving.

First Europe, now the world

Having beaten Europe's best, Ingebrigtsen is now focused on taking on the world, starting with the IAAF World Cross Country Championships.

He finished 12th in the U20 race in Aarhus as the top European.

No European man has won a medal at the Cross Country Worlds since Belgium's Mohammed Mourhit beat Sergiy Lebid of Ukraine to claim his second senior title in 2001.

Ingebrigtsen then hits the Diamond League circuit which starts in Doha in early May.

And the Qatari capital also hosts the highlight of 2019 and season finale, the IAAF World Championships running from 27 September to 6 October.

He will be keen to make his presence felt before looking towards Tokyo 2020 where he would try to match Moroccan great Hicham El Guerrouj who won 1500m and 5000m gold at Athens 2004.