Stopping Jakob Ingebrigtsen from winning a second European Athletics indoor 1500m title in Istanbul will be like trying to keep a wolf from its prey.
- Final entries for Istanbul 2023
After testing his form in Lievin on 15 February after missing more than a month’s training due to illness, the Olympic champion, who had set the world indoor 1500m record of 3:30.60 on that same track the previous year, left the arena with a gleam in his eye after winning in 3:32.38, the fastest time recorded this season.
You could clearly see him thinking – “If I can do that off so little training, what can I do when I’m fully fit?”
One race was all Ingebrigtsen required to find out where he was at – and what he might be capable of this year as he seeks firstly to retain his European indoor 1500 and 3000m titles which would take his overall tally of European senior titles up to 11.
That said, Great Britain’s Neil Gourley is in the form of his life, and he came within one-tenth of Ingebrigtsen’s world lead in Birmingham last Saturday as he set a national record of 3:32.48 shortly after setting an indoor mile personal best of 3:49.46 in finishing second at the Millrose Games behind Yared Nuguse’s North American record time of 3:47.38.
Could the 28-year-old Scot confound Ingebrigtsen as his compatriot Jake Wightman did in last summer’s world 1500m final?
Aside from Gourley, Andrew Coscoran also revised the long-standing Irish 1500m record in Birmingham. His time of 3:33.49 improved not only Marcus O’Sullivan’s Irish indoor record of 3:35.40 but also eclipsed Ray Flynn’s outright national record by 0.01.
Poland’s Michal Rozmys, eighth in the Tokyo 2020 final and tenth in last year’s world final, has also the experience and talent to make the podium while other prospective medallists include Germany’s Amos Bartelsmeyer, France’s Azeddine Habz and Great Britain’s George Mills - all of whom have run between 3:34-3:35 this year.
After the 1500m, Ingebrigtsen turns his focus to the 3000m
As sometimes occurs – temporarily - in his races, Ingebrigtsen is the back marker on the 3000m entry list: he hasn’t got a 2023 time to his name.
But while his indoor personal best is only 7:48.20, he set the Norwegian record outdoors in 2020 with 7:27.05 in Rome. So Sam Parsons, who has joint US and German nationality, will not be drawing undue security from his 2023 best of 7:39.94, which makes him the fastest in the field on this season’s times.
The big question will be whether Ingebrigtsen’s lack of training might undermine his efforts to stretch to another double as he seeks a third consecutive European indoor 3000m title.
If he shows any sign of flagging, the athlete who looks most ready to take advantage is Spain’s highly experienced operator Adel Mechaal, who followed Gourley home in the Birmingham 1500m in a Spanish record of 3:33.28.
Mechaal has a strong pedigree in major championships having won European 5000m silver in 2016 and European indoor gold and bronze in 2017 and 2022 respectively. He defeated Ingebrigtsen - Jakob's elder brother Henrik - for the title six years ago.
Belgium’s 23-year-old Tibo De Smet is the fastest 800m runner in Europe this year having set a national record of 1:45.04 in Luxembourg last month that has only been bettered by a 1:44.98 clocking from Kenya’s Noah Kibet.
That is a performance which he says has given him a bit more confidence in himself. But as he acknowledged to European Athletics: “I do have the fastest European time but it doesn’t mean (much) indoors. Luxembourg was the perfect race and in Istanbul a lot of tactics will come into play. Anyone can win there.”
If De Smet needed a check on his rising ambition – which he probably didn’t – he got it anyway at the Belgian Indoor Championships last weekend when he was beaten into second place by Eliott Crestan after failing to cover his sprint for home.
Crestan, a world U20 bronze medallist in 2018 and a European finalist in 2022, is also in the Istanbul field and will doubtless fancy his chances in what looks a very open 800m event.
Particularly so given that Spain’s Mariano Garcia, the European outdoor and world indoor champion who likes to precede his races by miming the revving up of a motorbike, is currently in the garage rather than on the open road.
Bosnia and Herzegovina's Amel Tuka is only just in the top 40 of this season’s world list, but no one should underestimate the potential of a runner who won world bronze in 2015 and world silver four years later in Doha – particularly if it is a slow race needing a quick finish.
Other potential podium presences include Andreas Kramer, the 2018 European outdoor silver medallist. If De Smet is the coming man, this hugely consistent Swede is the staying man – always there or thereabouts.
Watch out too for another tried and tested talent in Mark English of Ireland, the doctor who last year added a second European bronze to the one he won in Zurich in 2014, and who already has European indoor silver and bronze from the 2015 and 2019 editions respectively.
Spanish record-holder Saul Ordonez, who won at the penultimate World Athletics Indoor Tour Gold meeting of the season on the home track of Madrid, clocking 1:45.88 – making him the second fastest in the field behind De Smet – will want to translate that form into tangible reward.
As will his compatriot Javier Miron, third in that race.
Two other athletes - Great Britain’s Guy Learmonth and two-time European indoor 400m medallist Tony Van Diepen from the Netherlands - will arrive boosted by setting identical season's bests of 1:46.36.
With reigning champion and Olympic bronze medallist Patryk Dobek missing from the championships due to a lack of form, the Polish challenge will be supplied by Mateusz Borkowski, the athlete who took silver behind Dobek in Torun 2021.
And on a historic note, this will be the first edition of the European Athletics Indoor Championships since 2007 without the two long-time standard bearers of Polish middle distance running Marcin Lewandowski and Adam Kszczot, both of whom retired last year.
Mike Rowbottom for European Athletics