“Age is just a number.”
So said Jakob Ingebrigtsen when gently reminded by The Irish Times that he had just broken several Olympic 1,500 metres records in this one spectacular moment.
No Norwegian has ever won the blue-riband event, no European had won it since Fermin Cacho in 1992, and none of us here could recall any runner winning this event before his 21st birthday. The last man to win it age 21 was our own Ronnie Delany in Melbourne in 1956.
“This is the pinnacle,” added Ingebrigtsen, and in distance running terms of course it us. Ingebrigtsen doesn’t turn 21 until September and the only number that mattered to him inside the Tokyo Olympic Stadium on Saturday was his 3:28.32.
That improved the Olympic record set in Thursday’s semi-finals, and also improved the European record. At age 20 – Ingebrilliant. Ingecredible, Ingesane. We’re already run out of words to describe the youngest of the three Ingebrigtsen brothers – who has already won what no other man, woman or boy could win in the long history of European or Olympic distance running.
That was his 1,500m-5,000m double at the European Championships in Berlin in 2018. Tonight in Tokyo he beat Kenya's World Champion Timothy Cheruiyot for the first time, kicking past him on the crown of the last bend,
Cheruiyot had beaten Ingebrigtsen in their previous 12 races, including the 2019 World Championship showdown in Doha, only not this time. Cheruiyot took silver in 3:29.01, just holding off Britain's Josh Kerr, who still ran a magnificent lifetime best of 3:29.05 to nail the bronze medal.
There were personal bests for the next three athletes too – Abel Kipsang of Kenya in Fourth (3:29.56), Adel Mechaal of Spain (3:30.77) and the American Cole Hocker (3:31.40) in sixth The first seven men finished inside the pre-2021 Olympic record time of 3:32.07.
Those close to the sport, not just in Norway, have been singing Jakob’s praises for some time, or ever since he took his first steps in the sport. At the age of 14 he clocked 3:48.37 for 1,500m, at 15 he ran 3:42.44; then, in 2017, at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene, he became the youngest to break the four-minute mile, running 3:58.07 at the age of 16.
“I’ve been a professional runner since I was eight, nine, 10 years old,” he said. “I’ve been training, dedicated and following a good structure – the same as my brothers – from an early age.”
It's all been flagged, and well charted and aired too, in the 2016 documentary series for Norwegian TV, Team Ingebrigtsen, which offers an open and unparalleled insight into the family's success.
There’s an undeniable confidence about him too, an attitude that overtly rejects Nordic egalitarianism by openly stating: “We will be the best.”
After coming close to 125 years without an American men's gold medal on the track, the quartet of Michael Cherry, Michael Norman, Bryce Deadmon and Rai Benjamin wrapped up the gold in what was the last race on the track, the men's 4x400m relay, clocking n 2:55.70,, the fourth-fastest time in history.
The Dutch quartet produced national record of 2:57.18 to take silver, while Botswana broke their own African record from the heats to take bronze in 2:57.27.
No harm in trying, as mad as it was, Sifan Hassan completing at least two parts of what might have been unprecedented distance running treble at the last step after she won the women's 10,000m.
With the 5,000m gold medal already in her tracksuit pocket from Monday night, and bronze in the 1,500m from Friday, the Dutch woman toed the line inside the Olympic Stadium knowing she’d need to beat Letesenbet Gidey from Ethiopia to win this, the recent world record holder at the distance.
After nine days and six races totalling 61 and a quarter laps of the Tokyo Olympic Stadium track, the 28-year-old double world champion added her second gold, winning in 29:55.32. Kalkidan Gezahegne ran 29:56.18 for silver and Gidey 30:01.72 for bronze.
“It’s not about how strong I am but how strong are the ladies I challenge. Now I am happy, I am done, it’s over,” said Hassan
The US women also won 4x400m by some distance, their quartet clocking 3:16.85m the fastest time in the world since 1993, and the fifth fastest time in history.
Behind them, Poland set a national record of 3:20.53 to take silver, finishing ahead of Jamaica (3:21.24).
Some more Olympic firsts for the night: Neeraj Chopra has a second-round throw of 87.58m in the men's javelin and that held up as the best mark of the night, making him the first Indian to win an Olympic gold in athletics.
Mariya Lasitskene from the Russian Olympic Committee produced a season best of 2.04m to win gold in the high jump, her first Olympic medal. Australia’s Nicola McDermott broke her own Oceanian record with 2.02m for silver, while Yaroslava Mahuchikh of the Ukraine got over 2.00m to win bronze.