Medals are like buses. After Vebjorn Rodal claimed bronze in the men’s 800m in Gothenburg in 1995, Norway went 10 consecutive editions of the IAAF World Championships without winning a medal on the track. Then in a matter of days, at the IAAF World Championships London 2017, two appeared almost at once.
Having seen his teammate Karsten Warholm take gold over 400m hurdles on Wednesday 9 August in torrential rain, Filip Ingebrigtsen kept up the momentum four days later by finishing in the bronze medal position in the 1500m on the final night of the championships.
“Athletics has been on the down for 15 to 20 years in Norway, since Rodal,” said Ingebrigtsen. “Cross-country skiing has been taking all of the attention. Now with Karsten in the hurdles and me in the 1500m, hopefully we can get a lot of Norwegians interested in running, as we’ve shown in these championships that we are becoming a big nation in European athletics.”
In the 1500m final, the three Kenyans in the field, Elijah Manangoi, Timothy Cheruiyot and Asbel Kiprop, opened up a gap on the rest of the field. While the rest of his competitors watched and hesitated, afraid to take the initiative, Ingebrigtsen took off in chase of the leaders, and his audaciousness was rewarded with third place behind Manangoi and Cheruiyot, as Kiprop faded badly in the final 200m.
“Before the race I thought the Kenyans would work together and make it a fast race to get rid of the 800m guys before the home stretch. Unfortunately I was boxed in when they increased the pace. The other guys didn’t follow so I had to break free from them and try to catch them. I caught up with them but I couldn’t go past them. It was hard work to try to catch them. But I won a bronze so I’m happy.”
Along with older brother Henrik (26) and younger brother Jakob (16), 24-year-old Filip Ingebrigtsen is coached by father Gjert, and under his guidance the three have achieved considerable success. Filip claimed the gold medal over 1500m at the European Championships in Amsterdam last year. Closely behind him on that occasion was Henrik, who took bronze, to add to the gold and silver he won at the 2012 and 2014 European Championships respectively.
Meanwhile Jakob has been making waves in 2017, appearing on the IAAF Diamond League circuit, and achieving the 5000m and 3000m steeplechase double at the European U20 Championships in Grosseto, Italy.
“It’s really competitive but we are also really close, and family means everything,” said Filip. “Henrik and I have been working together and running against each other for the last six years, so I have to give him some credit for this bronze medal.”
While absolutely delighted with his brother’s success in London, Henrik couldn’t help but re-emphasise just how competitive the three brothers are around each other, and how this is necessary in order to push themselves to greater heights.
“If one runs well, it puts more pressure on the other guys,” said Henrik. “Every workout is a competition.”
Their father is very quick to jump in and interrupt however, very much downplaying the existence of a competitive rivalry between his sons, preferring to focus on the training procedures he has put in place to enable them to become world-class middle-distance runners.
“I wouldn’t say that. I disagree,” said Gjert. “I would say it gives them confidence in the training procedures as they have somebody to train with. Of course they push each other, but in a good way. Because they are brothers, they like to see each other succeed.”
Filip has been used to competing alongside Henrik at major championships in recent years. However, his older brother has had to sit out the world championships due to injury, and instead helped out as an accredited coach for the Norwegian team in London.
“I was lucky enough to have him with me as a team coach,” said Filip. “It would have been empty if he wasn’t there. He’s been helping a lot with tactics. He’s been at a lot of championships over the years, so his experience has been helping me a lot. I gave him a hug after the final, and I noticed he shed a few tears.”
While the Ingebrigtsens are possibly now the most well-known family in world athletics, they started out from humble beginnings. Their mother gave birth for the first time aged 17, and never had a career in sport, although she was a recreational swimmer. Their father had no involvement in sport whatsoever. Many would see this lack of competitive experience as a barrier to becoming a successful coach, but Filip believes Gjert’s dedication and willingness to learn more than makes up for this.
“He’s a really smart guy. He’s always been following us closely in everything we do. He’s just been learning from a trial-and-error method. He’s always analysing the training and trying to improve. In the last four to five years he’s been a really good coach and our programmes have been really developed.”
With a first global medal secured, Filip has no plans to end his season just yet. He will run in the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Zurich later this month, before competing in the Norwegian Championships in his hometown of Sandnes.
Asked whether he’d be interested in a hypothetical 3 x 600m relay race against the other super-family of athletics, the Borlees, incorporating 400m runners Jonathon, Kevin and Dylan, he replied with a smile.
“Henrik’s too slow. They would beat us easily.”
Competitiveness in the Ingebrigtsen household is here to stay.
James Sullivan for the IAAF