Jakob Ingebrigtsen
Wikimedia Commons/ Erik van Leeuwen, attribution: Erik van Leeuwen (bron: Wikipedia).

The Ingebrigtsens tell an all too familiar tale

Olympic champion, world champion, national sporting icon. They are all titles which indicate sporting legend, but for Jakob Ingebrigtsen mask a far nastier and unhappier truth.

In a staggering set of allegations against their father Gjert, Jakob and brothers Henrik and Filip have denounced his behaviour as violent and abusive.

It comes after Gjert split from coaching the trio in 2022, a fractious departure which first uncovered the acrimony.

The family have enjoyed an intense spotlight. A Norwegian reality TV show has dissected and torn apart their lives and personas for entertainment and raised particularly Jakob to even greater public attention.

And at times, his attitude has been described as arrogant and perhaps even disinterested. A telling post-race interview after his 5000-metre gold medal in Budapest this summer presented a tormented athlete. Having lost the 1500-metre prize to Brit Josh Kerr, surely he would have exuded some sense of personal relief? Instead, he gave the image of an athlete whose body may have been in one place but whose mind was clearly in another. And as Paris 2024 looms, he clearly saw the situation as unsustainable.

I confess to being one of those who had perceived Jakob as removed and disinterested

The question of empathy in sport is always an important one. Expectations of sportspeople can be unrealistic. Dele’s brave and courageous interview with Gary Neville earlier this year led many to repent for past criticisms and reconsider his achievements. Rather than seeing him as a declining English prospect off the boil, viewers instead saw a life in which he had more than overachieved.

While our athletes may demand empathy, they don’t always receive it. From our perspective, it is easy to see a blissful life of fulfilment. But the price of success is almost always enormous, and often ruinous.

I confess to being one of those who had perceived Jakob as removed and disinterested, an incredible athlete but maybe not an inspiring personality. These revelations however put everything in a new light. It is important to state they were not without a firm rejection from Gjert. “I am far from perfect as a father and husband, but I am not violent,” he insisted in response to the claims. “How we are going to get past this I don’t know, but we have to try.”

This is less a Kardashian-style soap opera than a real human tragedy. And it tells an all too familiar tale: of sport coming at a toiling human cost, with little sympathy for its victims. But the Ingebrigtsens deserve to be heard.


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