It was possibly a day that no Norwegian athletics fan of the last 30 years probably thought they might ever live to see, the sight of Norway topping the medal table at the SPAR European Athletics Championships.
Admitted, in the 1980s there might have been a time when such a feat might have been feasible when Norwegian teams could boast of having Grete Waitz and Ingrid Kristiansen as part of their squad. However, the continental competition was only inaugurated in 1994, long after the pair of illustrious distance runners had passed their prime.
Norwegian runners had notched up five gold medals in the U20 and U23 categories – although not a senior title – in the previous decade prior to Tilburg 2018 to show signs that a new generation of formidable runners was emerging from the Scandinavian nation but topping the medal table? Perhaps not, thought most pundits.
However, with the Ingebrigtsen brothers to the fore, Norway defied the odds two years ago and emerged triumphant against the traditional European cross country superpowers such as Great Britain, France, Spain and Portugal as well as the nouveau arriviste Turkey.
Norway’s golden day started when Jakob Ingebrigtsen created championship history when he became the first man to win the U20 title three times.
This 18-year-old was the toast of the Berlin in the summer with his victories in the 1500m and 5000m at the European Athletics Championships, producing performances which had reverberations around the world, and fulfilled his role as the prohibitive favourite when racing against his teenage peers.
In truth, the Norwegian never looked stressed - or in too much trouble - even though for long periods of the muddy and twisting 6.3km race he was behind Spain’s Ouassim Oumaiz, who also nonchalantly waved to the crowd during the periods of the race when he was leading the way
However, Ingebrigtsen decided to make his decisive surge for victory with 500 metres to go in the Dutch city’s Beekse Bergen Safari Park.
it was all about making the best use of conditions that would only become muddier as the morning went on.
Occasionally touching the barriers to keep his balance in the slippery conditions, made more difficult by constant rain throughout the morning, he crossed the line in 18:00. Coming home nine seconds clear of Oumaiz, he celebrated by diving into the mud.
“I have never done anything like this before, so it is fun for me to compete in these conditions,” joked Ingebrigtsen. “It was a tough race, the course was tough. With all the mud, it was difficult to get in the rhythm.”
Ingebrigtsen was followed home by his compatriots Simen Halle Haugen, who was a superb fifth in 18:18, and Hakon Stavik in 22nd place and it was enough to give them an unexpected team title with 28 points, just edging out favourites Great Britain whose three men managed a tally of 30.
Just under three hours after the youngest of the Ingebrigtsen brothers had crossed the line, it was the turn of his siblings Filip and Henrik to contest the senior men’s race.
Filip had been arguably the favourite for the 1500m title in Berlin, but he faded to 12th in the final, after sustaining an injury in the heats, while his younger brother soaked up the plaudits.
However, in Tilburg, the fully recovered Filip’s track background stood him in good stead.
With little more than 100 metres remaining in the senior men’s 10.3 km race, he went through the gears to leave his last remaining rival, Belgium’s Issac Kimeli trailing in his wake.
Ingebrigtsen proved a passable pose as Superman as he celebrated following his victory, his arms curved in a pumped up pose, after winning in 28:49 with Kimeli three seconds back while Henrik Ingebrigtsen was back in 18th but joined in the post-race celebrations.
“I don’t know what I was a hoping for today,” said Filip. “This is for sure not my distance. I try to improve the weak side of my running and this is one way of doing this.
“I have competed a couple of times in the U20 and U23 races and I never finished in the top 20. I wanted to run a decent race but to come here and win the senior race with this level of athletes, is something I didn’t dream of. I stayed with the first group and one after one they started to drop.
“And, yes, a second gold medal for the family today. We come from the west coast of Norway, it is always windy and rainy over there, so perhaps it is not coincidence,” added Filip, reflecting on the challenging conditions in Tilburg.
With the other 10 gold medals on offer in Tilburg spread among no less than eight different nations – with only France and Turkey getting two apiece – Norway’s appearance on top of the medal table in Tilburg added lustre to what had already been a stunning year for the country’s athletes.