Confident Jakob Ingebrigtsen continues rise with European cross-country title

Ireland’s mixed 4x1500m relay team featuring Ciara Mageean misses out on podium


There are some artists among distance runners who can feign their effort to make things appear easier than they actually are. Jakob Ingebrigtsen is not one of those. Winning the European cross-country title, not long past his 21st birthday and against far more senior rivals, proved every bit as easy as it appeared.

So continues the astonishing rise of the young Norwegian. After winning four successive under-20 titles in the previous four editions, Ingebrigtsen came to Dublin intent on making this senior crown his own, and so he did, breaking clear from defending champion champion Aras Kaya from Turkey over the last of the six long laps of the 10,000m race, well beyond his currently preferred distance of the metric mile.

Indeed Ingebrigtsen could have won this race any which way he wanted, coming home with 14 seconds to spare, the only apparent toll of his effort being a badly spiked lower leg, which did require brief medical attention. After that Ingebrigtsen waltzed through the mixed zone, this being his first cross-country race after a summer track season topped off with the Olympic 1,500 medal, won in an Olympic and European record.

“It’s just a big spike, there was a big crowd in the race so it happens,” he said, the youngest ever winner of the senior event, the magnificence of his running certainly appreciated by the Irish crowd, particularly after be broke free so effortlessly over the final lap.

Ingebrigtsen actually came away with two medals, leading the Norwegian team behind him to bronze medals, just four points ahead of the Irish senior men in fourth. This despite his older brother Filip Ingebrigtsen dropping out, although in truth Ireland were never in a medal winning position.

Still it was a suitably brave hometown effort from the Irish scoring trio of Brian Fay, who made up ground throughout to finish 10th, national champion Hiko Tonosa also running strongly to nail 13th, with Cormac Dalton in 28th. Still Norway claimed the last podium spot with 47 points, to Ireland’s 51.

Never short of self-confidence, Ingebrigtsen admitted it was largely a waiting game for him, and yes, it was as easy as it appeared: “Yes, basically. Though it’s a 10km, outside the track is always a tough race. At the same time I felt good and I’ve been training really well the last couple of months.

“I felt good and for me it was just about staying with the other guys, when they increased the pace and getting first to the finish line. I’m really happy. I just increased the pace slightly. I realised when we were four guys in the front, I was working hard, and at the same time, I realised that the others around me were breathing at least as hard as me and even more.

“I enjoy racing and I enjoy competing for medals. At the same time, cross country is really tough and I don’t like to be in pain. I had to make up my mind all the way up to the championships but I’m happy that I came here.”

His father and coach Gjert Ingebrigtsen appeared suitably impressed too, bypassing the under-23 race entirely his son’s decision, the plan for the next year will be to start chasing world records on the track.

For Fay, pursuing a graduate degree at the University of Washington and coming off a long NCAA season, tenth place was perfectly satisfying, the Dublin runner carving through runners throughout.

“With each lap you think ‘oh, am I gassed here’, then you get into the back stretch and everyone is just screaming your name, and you stop thinking about how you’re feeling, and get going,” he said. “On the last lap I’m just grinding on, and I just gave it everything the last 100m, I think I had the race of my life there. And to do it on home soil, it’s class, it’s great performance. If you look at the team Ireland performance throughout the day, we’ve won medals, we’ve been within medals, and I think we back up the fact we are a cross-country nation.

The mild disappointment of that team fourth place was nothing compared to the mildly devastating fourth place in the 4x1,500m mixed relay, the Irish quartet being in a medal position throughout the race, only to slip into fourth in the last 100 metre stretch, through no lack of effort.

Ciara Mageean took out the first leg in style, passing over the Luke McCann with a three second lead, before Síofra Cléirigh Büttner lost some ground on the third leg, her six second advantage clawed back by Britain’s Alex Bell, an Olympic Games 800m finalist this summer, who then handed over to anchor man Ben West four seconds in front.

Andrew Coscoran fought incredibly hard on the last lap, West taking Britain home in gold, France and Belgium winning the sprint home for silver and bronze, Coscoran giving the same time in fourth.

“That was definitely the race plan, we had a wee team huddle before the race, got ourselves riled up, and we went out to win,” said Mageean. “We weren’t thinking about second or third, we did everything we could out there to put ourselves top of the medal podium in first place. I’m proud of all of us, my first race since the Olympics, glad to have come out as ever and wear the Irish vest.”

Büttner added: “You don’t hear much in your own head, the noise was so great, and I was conscious not to go out too hard, just wanted to stay composed. We’re disappointed not to get that gold medal, but we all went out there and gave it our best on the day.”

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