New champion surprised everyone

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There were no jubilant homecoming celebrations back in Norway after Henrik Ingebrigtsen won the country’s only gold medal at the recent European Athletics Championships in Helsinki over the weekend. The largely unknown young man who won the 1,500-meter race on Sunday evening flew off for altitude training in St Moritz early the next morning.

Runner Henrik Ingebrigtsen is Norway's new sports sensation, after winning a gold medal at the European Athletics Championships in Helsinki on Sunday. PHOTO: Norsk Friidrett/friidrett.no

Ingebrigtsen, age 21, ran the 1,500 meters in just three minutes, 46.2 seconds, beating Florian Carvalho of France, bronze medal winner David Bustos of Spain and a long list of other competitors. Ingebrigtsen surprised everyone at the European championships, where Norway’s usual track-and-field stars like javelin-thrower Andreas Thorkildsen failed to win medals. Norway did win one silver and two bronze medals earlier in the championships, when Tonje Angelsen placed second in the high jump and Margrethe Renstrøm and Jaysuma “Jays” Saidy Ndure placed third in the long jump and 100-meter dash respectively, but a gold medal in the 1,500-meter wasn’t expected.

Now Ingebrigtsen is heading for the Olympics in London, after his inclusion in Norway’s “OL-team” was confirmed on Monday. He’s being called nothing less than a “sensation,” seemingly coming out of nowhere to grab headlines and get a congratulatory telephone call from Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.

He has, however, been training hard most of his life, according to his trainer and father Gjert Ingebrigtsen. He told newspaper Aftenposten on Tuesday that his son, second-eldest in a family of six children from Sandnes in western Rogaland County, had clear goals from an early age and wanted to excel himself.

“I’ve just followed along,” the elder Ingebrigtsen told Aftenposten. “I make a proposal and then Henrik says whether he agrees. He is very independent.”

He was initially keen on cross-country skiing and won the Hovedlands race and a national championship for juniors before making running a priority. When he was 12 years old, his father sent an e-mail to Norway’s national athletics association, telling them that his son was “something quite special.” They merely thanked him for his message. Nine years later he became the first Norwegian to win a gold medal at the European championships for men in mid-distance running. Vebjørn Rodal and Audun Boysen won silver medals in the 1990’s and ’50s, and Ernst Larsen won a bronze in 1954.

“Henrik has an extreme will to win, and he’s willing to do what it takes,” said he father. “In addition, he’s intelligent in both his training and in competition. He’s equipped with a good head and excellent physical attributes. It’s quite special to be his father.”

Before heading off for more training, Henrik Ingebrigtsen himself said he’d had two goals for this year: “That was to run under 3:38 (which he did earlier this season) and to get into the European championship competition,” he told Aftenposten. Now he’s done both, and more, and he’s unknown no longer.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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