The bigger the stage the better for Norway’s newest one lap talent Ingvaldsen

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  • The bigger the stage the better for Norway’s newest one lap talent Ingvaldsen

He may be only 20 but Havard Bentdal Ingvaldsen has already developed a habit that could carry him to lofty heights in the years ahead. It’s one every athlete wants, but only some possess: the ability to produce your best when it matters most.

“I’ve realised that the bigger the event, the more I can get out,” he says.

Ingvaldsen is the fastest Norwegian 400m runner of all-time, usurping Karsten Warholm as national record-holder with the 44.86 he ran to finish fourth at the recent Bislett Games in Oslo. His PB before that? 45.94, digits that will forever be associated with Warholm after the Tokyo Olympic 400m hurdles final.

There was a sold-out crowd at the Bislett Games last month, Ingvaldsen’s friends and family among the thousands packing the stands of the historic stadium. Yet the youngster was as cool as it gets.

“I had a track meet at the start of the season in my hometown (Moelv) with like 100 people there, and I was more nervous there than at the Bislett Games,” he says. “In Oslo I was in my own bubble, focused on my race, and it worked out well.”

It’s long been like this. The bigger the stage, the higher the pressure, the better he runs.

At the European Athletics Team Championships in Silesia, a week after the Oslo Diamond League, Ingvaldsen played a similarly patient game, turning for home with a few metres to find the leaders. But he maintained his form, his speed, far better than his rivals to hit the line victorious in 44.88.

“I don’t get so tired easily in my legs,” he says of his come-from-behind approach. “So I felt I had a lot to go in the last 100.”

Ahead of the European Athletics U23 Championships in Espoo, Finland from 13-16 July Ingvaldsen is not just the quickest U23 athlete in Europe this year; he’s the quickest European of any age.

His goal there? “A medal,” he says.

His rise to this level is a product of both nature and nurture – Ingvaldsen’s mother the driving force on both fronts. Mari Ann Bentdal was once a Norwegian champion over 800m, and she has coached her son throughout his career. Havard did athletics through his childhood but it was only at the age of “14 or 15” that he started to take it seriously.

“I played football first, and a bit of cross country skiing,” he says. “But I realised I had good speed and someone told me to do track and field, and I did.”

Ingvaldsen says he “hated” training for athletics while he was playing football, but always liked that feeling of running fast. When he made the switch, he began to love it, especially when he saw his rapid improvements. “I grew very fast,” he says.

His 400m PB coming into 2021 was a solid, if unspectacular, 49.15, but that was when things changed. At the European Athletics U20 Championships in Tallinn that summer, he ran 46.90 in the heats, 46.80 in the semi-final and 46.70 in the final – further evidence that he produces his best when the pressure is highest.

The latter performance landed him a bronze medal and later that summer, a couple of weeks shy of his 19th birthday, he clocked a national U20 record of 45.95 to win the Norwegian Championships.

“It was (under) the U20 national record of Karsten Warholm so yeah, I was shocked,” he says.

Ingvaldsen says he and Warholm are friendly, and the Olympic champion has passed on much advice during their interactions in recent years. “He has been big, both him and the Ingebrigtsens,” says Ingvaldsen. “I look up to them and it’s because of them I started in track and field.”

His results plateaued in 2022, his training hampered by physical issues, with Ingvaldsen finishing fourth in his 400m heat in 46.18 at the European Athletics Championships in Munich.

This year, however, things began to click.

Ingvaldsen trains “seven days a week,” he says. “Sometimes two sessions a day, but not so hard, like jogging in the morning and maybe harder in the evening.”

He has finished school and plans to enrol at a university in Norway later this year, feeling he has no need to follow other rising stars from his country, such as pole vaulter Sondre Guttormsen, into the NCAA. “I will stay in Norway,” he says. “But I will travel to (train in) warm countries in winter.”

He sees much scope for improvement in the years ahead.

“I’m just 20, I haven’t grown out yet, so I think I’m getting better just by standing up the next morning and training with high quality,” he says.

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Away from the track, he has a strong interest in cars and property and figures he might work with either of those in the future, but for now his focus is on the track.

“I’m hoping to be one of those guys who runs 43,” he says, adding that the Olympics next year are his “big goal.”

Norway has no shortage of stars at present, and the 20-year-old is proud to be part of the latest talent pipeline. “The standard has never been higher than now in Norwegian track and field,” he says.

The World Athletics Championships in Budapest this summer are also in his plans, but first up, it’s a chance to win his first international title. It won’t be easy to triumph in Espoo, given Ingvaldsen will have to beat Hungary’s Attila Molnar, who’s run 44.98 this season. But the championships have long been the “main goal” of his summer, and he’ll go there as the man to beat.

If history is anything to go by, then Ingvaldsen will save his best for the final, and if recent form is anything to go by, he’ll prove awfully hard to beat.

Cathal Dennehy for European Athletics

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