By Kyle Merber
August 30, 2023
Since losing last year’s World Championships to Jake Wightman, it all went perfectly for Jakob Ingebrigtsen in 2023 as he won each of his 16 races in dominant fashion and even set a couple of world records along the way. The Norwegian seemed unbeatable, which made his subsequent loss – in near identical fashion, to a different British athlete – one of the highlights of this year’s championships.
In a move that made us storyline loving sickos rub our hands together and nod like Jack Nicholson in The Departed, rather than admitting defeat and congratulating his opponent on a well-deserved victory, Ingebrigtsen cited illness, claiming that Josh Kerr was nothing more than the “next man up” who capitalized on him not being at his best.
Running 3:29.38 and closing in 52.77 to beat the deepest field ever is not a fluke in anyone’s mind except Jakob’s. That’s self-preservation at work. Admitting that someone else was better, even if only for a few minutes, is to admit defeat. That’s why I appreciate Jakob so much – he’s a talented entertainer who has embraced his role as a sort of middle distance anti-hero.
But to the rest of us: Kerr won this race, his fourth straight final, and is now the deserving Olympic favorite.
One recurring bit during our recap podcasts all week was speculating “What would Vince McMahon do?” to make each race the most interesting version of itself possible. Track and field is of course not scripted like the WWE, but as one journalist told me this week, “I do not root for people, I root for storylines.”
And in my opinion, a Jakob revenge tour would create the most chatter. If he goes back to dominating the Diamond League and scaring middle distance world records then it will perpetuate the narrative that he can only run well in rabbited races and is not a championship racer. What that means for Tokyo is a hungry Jakob who still steps to the line with a massive target on his back; but if he wins there (an incredibly likely outcome) then he’s done so, surprisingly, as an underdog. The Jakob vs. the world story is so good and fans want a third season of it!
Although I thought the best storyline going into the 1500 was that Jakob would be beat, just a few days later, for the 5,000m, I changed my mind – unless an American was to pull off a major upset. Track and field is not fair, but it felt like the sport would be doing Ingebrigtsen’s entire season’s body of work a disservice if he did not walk away from Budapest without a gold medal.
Most of us reading this have hopefully accepted the fact that we are not the most talented person in the world at our chosen pursuit – so we’ve gotta work relatively hard to be get whatever the job is, done.. We sort of collectively get that talent is worthy of admiration, but sacrifice is worth respect. While Ingebrigtsen is clearly one of the most talented runners to ever walk (run?) the planet, it’s worth pointing out that Jakob’s life is significantly more regimented than just about any of ours ever was, is, or will be. (Yes, he might be faster, but has Jakob ever floated the Delaware River with 15 friends in a giant flamingo raft with an infinite supply of hard seltzers? It’s a choice!)
Similarly, Josh Kerr powered off his smartphone and bought a burner with no apps on it except for Duolingo and Premier League updates. We had no idea that he had spent the past couple of months meal prepping containers of dry chicken and white rice because he never had the ability to make a TikTok about it!
It was really fun watching Jakob get beat in the 1500. Track and field is unpredictable and that’s why it is such a pleasure to watch. At the same time, it is nice to know that hard work does pay off and that double threshold isn’t just a time-consuming and sexy trend.
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After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.