Henrik, Filip and Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway are all phenomenal track athletes. All three have been European champions in the 1,500m (Jakob in 2018, Filip in 2016 and Henrik in 2012), among their many other accomplishments, and track fans will be watching to see how all three of them do at the World Championships in Doha later this month. The family opened up their training methods and some details of their personal lives to researcher Leif I. Tjelta of the Department of Education and Sports Science at Norway’s University of Stavanger, who was curious to examine how their family life complements their training to achieve maximum synergy on the track.
In an article entitled “Three Norwegian brothers all European 1500 m champions: What is the secret?” in the International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, Tjelta concludes that “an active childhood, a gradual progression in training volume, strong family support, mental toughness, a high volume of training at and above anaerobic threshold, and mindful monitoring and regulation of training intensity have brought these brothers to a top international level in distance running.” The brothers train hard and smart, their weekly mileage averaging 140K to 160K with 23 to 25 per cent at or above anaerobic threshold pace, and they seem mostly to avoid injury. Few would dispute their colourful father and coach, Gjert Ingebrigtsen’s influence on their success. But it goes far beyond that.
It helps to be born into a sports-mad family
The boys grew up in a family (and a culture) that encouraged (some would say required) participation in multiple sports, with all three involved in competitive soccer, cross-country skiing and track from an early age. Jakob started run training at age 7, and he may have benefitted the most from having two older brothers who were dedicated athletes during his own early childhood.
The family is bigger than we thought (and they’re all athletes, including mom)
In fact, there are seven Ingebrigtsen siblings–three other brothers and a sister, all of them athletes–and their mother is a recreational runner who participates in races from time to time. Their sister, who is 13, is a track athlete and trains with her older brothers. So yes, the three brothers grew up together and trained together every day, but the support for their endeavours clearly went beyond the mere fact of living and training together. For the Ingebrigtsen family, life revolves around athletics.
It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll
Tjelta says: “Their mother and father both underline that these three brothers have always been extremely mentally tough, that they love to compete and that they have very high self-confidence. They have always had an ability to set high, but realistic goals and are driven by achievement and goals. Their mother, Tone Eva Tønnessen, says: ‘They have been told from an early age by their father that there is no easy way to the top. They never take shortcuts, they train every day. Even on their wedding days Henrik and Filip did their training sessions.’”
Tjelta builds on research by others who have asserted that athletic success cannot be attributed to training regimens or genetic predisposition alone, but depends on a variety of factors including a supportive environment (meaning an environment that is highly supportive of athletic accomplishment, such as within a family like the Ingebrigtsens), high levels of confidence and self-belief, the ability to deal with all the stresses associated with competing internationally, and a laser-like focus.
There are obviously numerous exceptions to the rule, but the bottom line for achieving meteoric athletic success appears to be: choose your family well.