It’s in our DNA: sharing secrets with the incredible Ingebrigtsens
Norwegian brothers’ remarkable success story continues to go from strength to strength
Jakob Ingebrigtsen with his gold medal on the podium after winning the men’s 3,000m final at the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Glasgow. Photograph: Robert Perry/EPA
Impossible . . . incredible . . . insane . . . super impressive . . . He is by now well used to such high praise, and still leaves some of us wondering about what exactly is the secret behind his success.
Not Ole Gunnar Solskjær, by the way, but Gjert Ingebrigtsen, although both men could lay claim to being the most successful coach to come out of Norway right now. Turns out they may share more in common, beginning with the sense things are only getting going.
Solskjær’s future at Manchester United now appears secure, that positively crazy escape against Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday night making them the first club in Champions League history to overcome a home first-leg loss of two goals – Solskjær now winning 14 of his 17 matches since taking over in December.
“I’m going to enjoy this job as long as I’ve got it – I’m going to smile,” said the 46-year-old from Kristiansund, already a master of quietly insistent positivity, somehow mixing the carefree with the deadly serious. Exactly as he did during his 11 successful seasons as a United player.
Gjert Ingebrigtsen, meanwhile, spent much of last weekend standing around the mixed zone at the European Indoor championships in Glasgow as his three sons passed through after their respective races.
By Sunday night, they’d won a complete set of medals for Norway – gold for Jakob in the 3,000m, then silver in the 1,500m, plus bronze for older brother Henrik also in the 3,000m. The middle brother Filip might well have added another medal in the 1,500m, only to get himself disqualified (he later posted a video of himself banging his head off a boxing bag). Either way it was another super impressive weekend for incredible Ingebrigtsens.
Before Glasgow, Norway had never won gold in the previous 34 editions of the European Indoors; now the Ingebrigtsen family had delivered the perfect sweep (Karsten Warholm adding another Norwegian gold and championship equalling record over 400m).
That Jakob was once again the Kingebrigtsen was of little surprise. Ingebrilliant. Ingecredible, Ingesane . . . we’d already run out of words to describe the youngest of the three brothers when, at just 17, he won a European outdoor double over 1,500m/5,000m in Berlin last August – a feat no other man, woman or boy could manage in the 84-year history of European Championship distance running. Sharing, by the way, the same baby-faced assassin traits of Solskjær.
Now 18 (he doesn’t turn 19 until September), Jakob may have fallen just short of completing a similar double in Glasgow, Poland’s defending champion Marcin Lewandowski outkicking him, defiantly, over the final lap. Still it took nothing from his status as the most exciting distance runner in Europe, already the best of the Ingebrigtsen brothers, also known as Team Ingebrigtsen.
Gjert acts as the father, coach and team leader, depending on the exact time of day, that status further recognised after being named Norwegian sports coach of the year for 2018. What also sets him apart as a coach is his openness to discussing the secret behind the success of his three sons, beginning, he says, with the sort hard-work ethic that’s a part of Irish distance running tradition as it is anywhere else.
“Of course, it’s in our DNA, we’re of similar stock,” he said, when asked if the Ingebrigtsen model of success might somehow be replicated with Irish athletes.
That’s not saying it’s going to be easy. Asked what kind of mileage Jacob runs in training, 120km, 130km, Gjert immediately raised the stakes. The 53-year-old from Sandnes, a father of seven, has no time for short cuts.
“120? No! 170km, 180km. So that’s 110, 120 miles. That’s why they can compete in several distances over a weekend. Jakob can run five, six seven competitions in three or four days. And they don’t have any natural speed. That’s their weak point. What they have is speed endurance, so they can always run at maximum speed. And that’s the tricky thing. You always need to be able to run your maximum speed for the last 300m of a 1,500m.”
It’s worked so far in that all three brothers have now each won the European 1,500m title outdoors (Henrik in 2012, Filip in 2016, Jakob in 2018). What also sets Gjert’s approach apart is the fact he was no formal athletic coaching or training experience, and instead is entirely self-taught. Central to that, he said, is the need for all three sons to buy into it. There is no compromise – but it hasn’t happened by chance either.
“It’s not possible to do any of this by chance. And staying there, for many years, is difficult. And of course I am not a professional coach. I have a different line of business, I work in a wholesale company.
“We work out a yearly plan, and it’s laminated, so there is no discussion about that. I will set that out for them, in September, for the whole year. And then they get a weekly plan. So it’s not possible for them to go out on their own in any way, it is very restrictive like that, and we measure every session in a very scientific way.”
Earlier this year Filip did move from the family home in Sandnes, south of Stavanger, to Oslo, but all three still train together whenever possible: Jakob lives in an apartment at the side of his house with his girlfriend, Henrik close by with his wife and two children.
This success has all been flagged and aired since the 2016 documentary series for Norwegian TV, Team Ingebrigtsen, which offers an open and unparalleled insight into the family. There’s an undeniable confidence about them too, an attitude that overtly rejects Nordic egalitarianism by openly stating: “We will be the best”.
Only the TV series doesn’t just invite the viewer into their homes: by season two, which continues post Berlin last summer, it feels like we’re invited into their beds as well, affording us the sort of transparency which suggests the Ingebrigtsens have nothing whatsoever to hide. In a sport that often questions the impossible, that at least leaves a little less to wonder about, beyond what’s also in our DNA.