The great running rivalry between Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Josh Kerr is set to light up the Olympics

Gentle bragging and trash talking between the two athletes should provide lots of entertainment – and great sporting performances – at Paris in August

It is not necessarily a bad thing that one half of the hottest rivalry in track and field right now is marked absent from Glasgow this weekend. Most people will happily let this one simmer away until their three-and-three-quarter laps inside the Stade de France on Tuesday August 6th.

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The jostling for position and gentle bragging between Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Josh Kerr for the claim as the best 1,500m runner in the world – also known as the Jakob versus Josh show – has started, and if the trailers are anything to go by it will make for a hell of a Paris showdown when the blue-riband event rolls around.

Ingebrigtsen is the one absent from Glasgow and not by design; the 23-year-old Norwegian would normally be racing at these World Indoor Championships – he’s hardly missed any big championships of note since he was 17 – if it wasn’t for the Achilles injury he sustained last October, shortly after returning to training following his honeymoon in the Maldives.


Kerr is racing the 3,000m in Glasgow, the 26-year-old Scottish runner only confirming his presence before his home crowd a couple of weeks ago, moving up a distance after breaking the world indoor two-mile record at the Millrose Games last month.

There, Kerr clocked 8:00.67, breaking the previous mark of 8:03.40 which had stood to Mo Farah since 2015. That sparked the latest exchange of gentle trash talk between the two, which started in Budapest last August, after Kerr outkicked Ingebrigtsen to win the World Championship 1,500m.

Asked about Kerr’s performance at the Millrose Games, Ingebrigtsen, who last summer ran an outdoor two-mile world record of 7:54.10, said he “would have beaten him [Kerr] in that race, blindfolded ... but it’s good that people run better than they have done before.”

That in turn prompted this most excellent headline on the Runner’s World website: “Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who lost to Josh Kerr without a blindfold, says he could beat him with a blindfold.”

At the Glasgow media conference on Thursday evening, Kerr was asked by a Norwegian reporter what he thought of Ingebrigtsen’s comments, and how he felt about him not being at the championships.

To which Kerr – despite being egged on by US sprint hurdler Grant Holloway alongside him – simply replied: “No comment.”

Cue all-round laughter, a reflection of the relatively harmless nature of it all, without it descending into some of the more vitriolic trash talk of certain combat sports. Not yet anyway.

Around the same time on Thursday evening, Ingebrigtsen posted a video on Instagram of him training at his home gym in Sandnes, Norway, with the caption “some good threshold work on the treadmill” and a waving emoji – to the backing rap track of Feel Good DNA.

It was a hint too at the double-threshold training sessions which Ingebrigtsen claimed were behind his Olympic 1,500m gold in Tokyo, aged 20, where he won from the front in an Olympic record of 3:28.32.

It’s true that Ingebrigtsen’s loss to Kerr in Budapest last August was the only blemish on his otherwise utterly dominant outdoor season. After winning a European Indoor double over 1,500m-3,000m, he ran that world two-mile best (breaking the mark set in 1997), ran a 2,000m world record of 4:43.13 (breaking the mark set in 1999), twice broke the European 1,500m record (running 3:27.95, after his 3:27.14), twice broke the European 3,000m record (running 7:23.63, after 7:24.00), and set a European mile record (3:43.73).

With all that he also won the Diamond League final mile and 3,000m in Oregon, less than 24 hours apart. After losing to Kerr in Budapest, Ingebrigtsen said afterwards that he’d been sick all week, and “if I hadn’t run in the final, he [Kerr] would probably have won. If you stumble or fall, then someone is going to win the race, and he was just the next guy.”

Kerr called those comments “disrespectful”, and later, speaking to various other media outlets, added that Ingebrigtsen has “big weaknesses” arising from his ego, but may not be aware of them as he’s surrounded by “yes men”, and has “flaws in the manners realm.”

After Jake Wightman outkicked him to win the 2022 World Championship 1,500m in Oregon, Ingebrigtsen said, “I know that I’m better than silver, so I’m embarrassed being this good, but also this bad,” a statement any runner other than Ingebrigtsen might be embarrassed about.

Last month, Ingebrigtsen went at it again, telling Norwegian daily Stavanger Aftenblad that Kerr’s “desperate attempt” at psychological warfare may look “silly at some point” as he knows he wins “98 out of 100 times” against Kerr and Wightman. “I’m pretty sure I’ll win next time anyway.”

In Ingebrigtsen’s case, the mood can’t be helped by the fact he hasn’t raced in almost six months, after “an unbearably tough” year, in the words of his older brother Henrik, due to the increasingly bitter split from their father and former coach Gjert Ingebrigtsen.

In another interview with the BBC before Glasgow, Kerr was asked what he believed would happen on that August 6th night. “Josh Kerr gets crowned as the Olympic 1,500m champion,” he replied, utterly unwavering in his conviction.

Kerr also told the Guardian that Ingebrigtsen “is very dedicated and he’s amazing at our sport” but “wants to be the best in the world and so do I, and that’s going to make us clash 10 times out of 10”.

But a rivalry like that is amazing for any sport – not that the blue-riband showdown will be a two-athlete race. Wightman, assuming he qualifies, will also be gunning for gold, as will the American Yared Nuguse, the other Norwegian Narve Nordas, and whichever Kenyan shows up at their best on the night. And don’t rule out either of the two rising teenage stars the Dutch runner Niels Laros and the Australian Cameron Myers.

As for any further exchanges between Ingebrigtsen and Kerr before Paris, only one of them can ultimately aspire to Muhammad Ali’s old claim that “it ain’t bragging if you can back it up”.

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