Dutch middle distance prodigy Laros sights set on breaking records and taking on Ingebrigtsen

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  • Dutch middle distance prodigy Laros sights set on breaking records and taking on Ingebrigtsen

Running as fast as he is, as young as he is, it’s inevitable that 18-year-old Niels Laros draws comparisons with the ultimate teenage middle distance prodigy.

Back in 2018, Jakob Ingebrigtsen announced himself on the senior stage by winning two European Championship titles at the age of 17, and the following summer, he ran European U20 1500m and 5000m records of 3:30.16 and 13:02.03 respectively. 

The Norwegian’s feats may stand alone at such an age, but if you plot their progressions side by side, it’s clear that Laros isn’t far behind. The Dutch teenager has put together a remarkable range, running 13:23.01 for 5000m, equalling the Dutch 1500m record with 3:32.89 to become the second fastest European U20 in history and recently improving his 800m lifetime best to 1:44.78 to win the 'B' race in Monaco.

What does he make of being mentioned in the same breath as Ingebrigtsen. “It’s pretty cool to be compared to someone like that,” he says. “But one day I’ll try to beat him.”

Spoilt for choice with Jerusalem on the horizon

Ahead of the Jerusalem 2023 European Athletics U20 Championships from 7-10 August, Laros has a wealth of choices ahead with the 800m, 1500m, 3000m or 5000m all viable options.

Has he made a decision yet? “No,” he said at the recent European Athletics Team Championships in Silesia.

Could a double on the cards? “It could be,” he smiled.

His goal there? “To win.”

The Givat Ram Stadium in Jerusalem is one he knows well. Last July, Laros announced his talent on the international stage, coasting to double gold at the European Athletics U18 Championships over 1500m and 3000m, looking very much an outlier among the most talented youth athletes in Europe. 

Did that change anything for him? “The attention has grown but nothing has changed,” he says. “I want to win, and that’s all.”

Laros grew up in Ooosterhout, a city of 56,000 that’s between Eindhoven and Rotterdam. His parents, Marcel Laros and Sandra Laros-Hofmans, were both athletes, and they met while on scholarship at the University of Texas at El Paso. His older brother, Lars (20), is a 14:04 5000m runner who studies at Wingate University in North Carolina. With that family history, Niels’ sporting career was only going to go one way.

“I grew up on the track and I loved it, so I stayed there,” he says.

In June 2021, Laros smashed his 1500m PB with 3:44.87 to reach the Dutch 1500m final at the age of just 16. But it was last summer, at 17, that his talent really took off. Following his double gold in Jerusalem, he lined up against seasoned seniors like Yared Nuguse, George Mills and Andrew Coscoran in Lucerne, and ran a PB of 3:39.46 in wet, windy conditions to eclipse Ingebrigtsen’s European U18 best for the distance.

These were athletes he’d watched on TV, but now he was among them, mixing it with established seniors while still in high school.

“Last year I wouldn’t have thought this would happen, but now it feels pretty normal, standing here and running against the best in the world,” he says.

Who were his favourite runners growing up?

“(Matthew) Centrowitz was a cool runner, Marcin (Lewandowski), of course, an amazing runner, and (Eliud) Kipchoge now is a fantastic inspiration,” he says.

Inspired by Marcin and guided by Tomasz Lewandowski

In May last year, Laros joined the ranks of Kipchoge’s agency, signing with Global Sports Management and accepting a professional deal with Nike. In April last year, with the grace of previous coaches Herman Vrijhof and Henk Rams, he moved to work with Tomasz Lewandowski, the brother and long-time coach of Marcin Lewandowski.

The Pole is highly regarded in elite coaching circles and was hired by the Dutch Federation in 2021 to oversee its leading group of home-based distance runners, with Laros moving to the Olympic Training Centre in Papendal to join them. He had done a trial period with Lewandowski and his squad in South Africa shortly before, and was impressed by the all-encompassing professionalism of their approach.

Did much change in his training since joining Lewandowski?

“A little bit, I’ve become older,” says Laros. “He was just looking at what I could handle (last year). Now he knows me much better so he knows what I can handle and what I can’t. We’ve done some new things and that’s good.”

What new things were added?

“Hard to say, training is a secret,” laughs Laros. “But one thing that’s changed is we have a really good group now. We’ve got five guys sub-3:40 and some other guys training with us. It’s amazing what he set up in such a short time.”

Laros still has one year left in high school, but he has no plans to follow his older brother’s path to the NCAA once he finishes. “No, I have my setup now here and it’s amazing,” he says. “I wouldn’t change that.”

His performances this summer gave little trace of the issues he encountered during his base training. “My winter was pretty s***, to be honest,” he says.

Laros contracted a virus in November that laid him low for a long period.

“I was out for four weeks and in the months after, I still hadn’t recovered well,” he says. “That's why I missed the European Cross. At the beginning of March I started to train okay again. At the beginning of the season, I didn’t know if I could start my season this early, but my coach did some tricks and we managed to have a very good start.”

Fully fit again and showing no fear 

Laros opened with a whopping 5000m PB of 13:23.01 at the IFAM in Oordegem, Belgium, before finishing fourth at the FBK Games in Hengelo over 1500m in 3:38.34. 

His 1:45.80 800m followed a week later at the Gouden Spike in Leiden, the Netherlands. Then the big one: equalling Gert-Jan Liefers’ Dutch 1500m record of 3:32.89 at Meeting Nikaia in Nice. After that, Laros earned his first senior Dutch vest at the European Athletics Team Championships in Silesia, finishing third in the division one 1500m behind Spain’s Mohamed Katir in 3:37.59.

Looking down the line, does Laros see himself as more of an 800m-1500m runner or a 1500m-5000m runner?

He pauses to think, before adding with a smile: “Eight and 5K.”

In August, Laros will get the chance to line up against the senior stars again at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest over 1500m, and while there was a time he’d look across at such star names and feel intimidated, slowly but surely, that’s been whittled away.

His focus this summer is still set on dominating the U20 category, but Laros is good enough, confident enough, fast enough, to know the road ahead can bring so much more.

“In the beginning (when) I was running against those (senior) guys it was a little like, ‘I will never beat them,’” he says. “But now it’s like, ‘I’m running on the same level as them; let’s kick their ass.’”

Cathal Dennehy for European Athletics


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