Olympic champion is favoured to successfully defend his title in Istanbul but will find rivals such as Neil Gourley snapping at his heels
Jakob Ingebrigtsen began the defence of his European indoor 1500m and 3000m titles by coasting to victory in his 1500m heat on Thursday night in Istanbul. Content to rumble along at the back of the field for much of the race, he glided past his rivals in the final two laps and coasted home in 3:50.29.
“The race was an easy one. I wanted to save as much energy as I could,” he said during a deliberately brief post-race chat with the media. “I’m always nervous but in heats I always feel like I have things under control. I was just trying to stay out of trouble.”
It is the kind of time he was capable of at the age of 15, but the now 22-year-old Olympic champion will have to run much quicker in Friday’s final at 20:40 local time (17:40 GMT) as he faces, among others, the challenge of British record-holder Neil Gourley.
The tall Gourley is in the form of his life after clocking a national record of 3:32.48 in Birmingham last weekend. That win also saw him seal the World Indoor Tour title and earlier this winter he ran 3:49.46 to finish runner-up at the Wanamaker Mile in the Millrose Games.
Gourley had to work a little harder than Ingebrigtsen in his heat on Thursday night, but still looked smooth as he came home first in 3:41.08.
Trying to beat Ingebrigtsen, says Gourley, is “immensely challenging but a compatriot of mine, Jake (Wightman), was able to do it last year so why not me?”
Wightman’s win over Ingebrigtsen last summer in Eugene has given Gourley the belief that he can create a similar upset. The 28-year-old is known for his strong finish but this winter he has increased his endurance training and looks dangerous whether the pace is fast or slow.
Perhaps Gourley – and other contenders such as Poland’s Michal Rozmys, Frenchman Azzedine Habz and Gourley’s GB team-mate George Mills – sense a chink in Ingebrigtsen’s armour too. The Norwegian withdrew from a race in Barcelona on New Year’s Day and suffered subsequent problems with illness during January. He bounced back with a 3:32.38 in Lievin last month but then pulled out of the World Indoor Tour meeting in Madrid last week to focus on his preparations for Istanbul.
As well as losing to Wightman in the world 1500m final last summer, too, he was out-kicked by Samuel Tefera at the World Indoor Championships in Belgrade 12 months ago with the Ethiopian running 3:32.77 to win, although Ingebrigtsen later found out he had Covid.
Ingebrigtsen holds the world indoor record with 3:30.60, set in Lievin last year, whereas in addition to his Olympic 1500m title he is the world 5000m gold medallist and multiple European champion indoors, outdoors and in cross-country.
Today’s 1500m final could be one of the races of the championships with Ingebrigtsen almost certain to set a hard pace, turning the screw lap by lap in an effort to sap the sting out of Gourley’s finish. In turn, the Briton will hope to hang on for as long as he can before unleashing his final effort.
“Momentum is right where it needs to be for me heading into this but everyone stands on the same line in the final and it doesn’t matter what you’ve done leading up to this. I need to be at the top of my game to challenge for the win.”
Will the front-runner beat the kicker? I expect the Norwegian to have a little too much firepower for the Brit but it could be close.
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