World Athletics Championships 2019: Team Ingebrigtsen - not your average Norwegian family

By Mike HensonBBC Sport
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Henrik (left) Jakob (centre) and Filip (right) Ingebrigtsen celebrate after the men's 1500m final at the European Athletics Championships in 2018
Jakob Ingebrigtsen (centre) won gold at the men's 1500m final at the European Athletics Championships in 2018

Some moments from the Ingebrigtsen family video collection are famous.

There was the time midway through last summer's European 5,000m final in Berlin's Olympic Stadium when 17-year-old Jakob high-fived older brother Henrik before storming to gold.

In 2017, their sibling Filip - younger than Henrik and older than Jakob - collapsed over the line at London's Olympic Stadium as he became the first European to win a world 1500m medal in 14 years.

In March, Henrik dived full length in a valiant, dramatic, if unsuccessful, attempt to steal the silver medal from Britain's Chris O'Hare at the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow, with Jakob taking victory once more.

Others are less well known.

Filmed more than a decade ago, a shaky camcorder shot opens with three Ingebrigtsen brothers in frame.

To the left, Henrik. To the right, Filip. In the centre, the oldest of the family's seven children, Kristoffer.

Huddled round a table, the teenagers, wearing matching tracksuits, review a recent domestic youth event in which Kristoffer finished eighth.

"Let's hear how it went in Oslo. Let's begin with Kristoffer," says a voice off screen.

"No," replies Kristoffer, glowering back down the lens.

"It was a good trip. You didn't have any major goals, did you? Did you?" says the voice.

"No, no!" says Kristoffer, growing increasingly irritated.

The voice then asks the boys to outline their goals for the next event.

"And Kristoffer?" it enquires after his siblings have had their say.

"We will try not to come last," interjects Henrik.

"I won't come in last!" shouts Kristoffer, aiming an elbow into his brother's biceps.

It is a snapshot of the building of European athletics' most remarkable family dynasty.

The European 1500m title that Jakob won in Berlin in 2018 was passed to him from Filip, who had been victorious in Amsterdam two years earlier. He in turn succeeded Henrik, who topped the podium at Helsinki 2012.

All three head to this week's World Championships in Doha, with Jakob and Filip serious contenders for 1500m medals and Henrik joining them in the 5,000m, in which the trio are longer shots.

Where this sudden geyser of sporting success sprung from is less clear.

Certainly, growing up in Sandnes, a small Norwegian city of around 75,000 facing out on to the North Sea, the young Ingebrigtsens' competitive spirit was almost claustrophobic.

Kristoffer, Henrik, Filip, along with the younger Martin and Jakob, would race each other getting in and out of the car, when they weren't battling for supremacy on bikes, skis, in the pool or on the track.

Their sister Ingrid, 13, is now training as an athlete. William, jokingly measured up for running shoes on his ultrasound scan, is yet to start a serious sports career, but is still only five.

The family tradition of professional sport is only one generation deep, though.

Their father, Gjert - himself raised in a poor single-parent household - is a logistics manager. Their mother, Tone, owns a pair of hairdressing salons.

"I am not especially interested in sport," Gjert tells BBC Sport.

"We are a normal family with a lot of kids. We spent a lot of time outdoors, skiing, hiking around, going to the mountains, cross-country skiing, exercising outdoors… but it is by coincidence. We never planned for anything."

That changed.

As his sons' sport has grown more serious, so has Gjert. He is now also agent, manager and coach, dictating their event schedule, commercial deals and gruelling high-tempo training sessions.

"It might be that I am rather strict in the way I see things," he reflects.

"The boys come to me and say: 'I want to be a European champion.' I say: 'I want to help you, I can help you, but you have to do everything that I tell you.'

"If you don't, I cannot have a part of it. My ultimate goal is to see all the kids succeed, to reach their goals. If they reach their goals, I reach mine.

"I stand out from other parents. I am very demanding and it is a kind of contract between me and the boys to help them be the best they can be - but they have to endure me following them every day all year."

By entering into that deal, Henrik, Filip and Jakob have sold themselves entirely to athletics.

Filip remembers waking early as an eight-year-old to do an hour of lactic-heavy roller skiing - a warm-weather version of cross-country skiing - before he headed to school.

Henrik recalls asking his father to set up sessions in the afternoons as well as the mornings. His father agreed, but told them not to tell teachers unless they grew concerned that he was pushing them too hard.

There is nothing covert about their commitment now. Each September, Gjert produces a training plan for the following 12 months, laminating it to prevent any revisions. At every session he will be trackside, barking orders and collating details of his sons' improvement and recovery in a spreadsheet.

As part of a bid to lure sponsors to fund the brothers' careers, Gjert overcame his sons' reluctance and allowed Norwegian television to shoot a reality series about them.

Team Ingebrigtsen captures the tensions that continue with Gjert's single-minded hold on his family's lives.

In one awkward scene, Filip accuses him of running a "dictatorship" as a trip to southern Europe with his girlfriend, who is sitting in the room, is quashed in favour of training.

In another, eldest son Kristoffer - who would reject athletics for a career in economics and a family life of his own - calls his parents "idiotic" for having their seventh child, William, 25 years after his own birth.

"I think they are doing this instead of going back and working on relationships with the children they already have," he adds caustically.

Gjert gives as good as he gets.

He looks down the barrel at one point and says: "I don't want to be an angry man, I want to be a father.

"But if an angry man will bring them their dreams, I will tolerate that sacrifice."

Gjert Ingebrigtsen
Gjert Ingebrigtsen has written a book entitled How To Raise A World Champion

He is far from the first sporting father to intertwine his own success with that of his children.

Andre Agassi, Mary Pierce and the Williams sisters are among the tennis stars who were driven to stardom by domineering father figures, but there are risks as well as rewards.

As big fans of motorsport in general, and Lewis Hamilton in particular, Filip, Henrik and Jakob will know the story of the five-time Formula 1 world champion and his father, Anthony.

After he had masterminded his rise to the top, Hamilton sacked his father as his agent in 2010. The pair barely spoke for the next two years, but have gradually reconciled, with the driver quoted in July as saying their relationship is the "best we've ever had". external-link

Do the ends of stellar sporting careers justify Gjert's mean dad act?

How much of the impetus for his children's athletics comes from within themselves and how much is conforming to the all-consuming culture of their household?

There is no easy answer. There is no single answer either.

"He will always be my father. You can't take that hat off and say now I am your coach," says Filip. "It is hard, but I think, all in all, it is more positives than negatives. He gives more as a coach because he is also a father - he always wants me to do my best and has my best interests at heart."

Jakob's take is a little different.

"There are lots of ups and downs and positive and negatives about having a father as a coach.," he says. "For other athletes I wouldn't recommend it because it is too much hard work and you also want a father outside of running.

"For now, and basically our whole lives, he has been a coach because we have asked ourselves what is the most important - do we want to have a family or do we want to run fast?"

Sons that run fast, relationships that hold fast. Gjert, who has written a book entitled How To Raise A World Champion, will hope both dreams are realised in Doha. And beyond.

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2019 World Athletics Championships
Venue: Khalifa International Stadium, Doha Dates: 27 September-6 October
Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport website and app; Listen live on BBC Radio 5 Live; Live streams, clips and text commentary online.
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