Jakob Ingebrigtsen & Josh Kerr Open Up on Their Relationship (Or Lack Thereof) Before 2024 Bowerman Mile

Kerr: "We're not friends. We don’t hang out, we don’t text. We race each other and that’s our relationship."

EUGENE, Ore. — If you tuned in live to the broadcast portion of today’s pre-meet press conference ahead of Saturday’s Bowerman Mile expecting fisticuffs, mean-mugging, or staredowns, you left disappointed.

Despite all the words that have flown between Josh Kerr and Jakob Ingebrigtsen over the past nine months, this is distance running, not boxing. When the world champion Kerr faces the Olympic champion Ingebrigtsen tomorrow for the first time since Kerr’s victory at last year’s Worlds in Budapest, the two men will be trying to run faster than each other (and the other 13 entrants), not knock the other to the canvas.

That being said, things got a bit spicy when LetsRun.com was able to talk to them individually after the main press event, with Ingebrigtsen describing some of Kerr’s comments about him in a November podcast as a “coward move.”

During today’s main session, where Kerr and Ingebrigtsen were on stage alongside American 3:43 miler Yared Nuguse, there was no friendliness, but there was not much animosity either. Ingebrigtsen and Kerr largely ignored each other.

Some events, like the pole vault, enjoy a familial camaraderie during the Diamond League season. That’s what happens when the same group of athletes are staying in the same hotels, practicing in the same pits, competing in the same meets for the whole summer. Milers like Ingebrigtsen and Kerr don’t overlap as often — they raced twice last year outside of Worlds — so it’s easier to prevent bonds from forming if that is what you prefer. The two men have not had a conversation since Budapest. Both men later said it is hard to get personal without actually knowing the other person.

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“We just meet each other in the middle of the summer,” Ingebrigtsen said. “We don’t know each other. My competitors definitely don’t know me.”

These three were the only group all day that didn’t put their arms around each other when group photos were taken

Kerr has some friends on the circuit — he celebrated last year’s world title in Budapest with a group that included fellow British milers Jake Wightman and Neil Gourley — but Ingebrigtsen is not one of them. That was evident on Friday. Before they were brought to take questions at the front of the stage, Kerr stood at the back of the room while Ingebrigtsen was off to the left with Nuguse and his agent Daniel Wessfeldt. When Kerr spoke during the event, Ingebrigtsen looked straight ahead or off to the side, never looking at Kerr’s face, let alone making eye contact. When Kerr, Ingebrigtsen, and Nuguse posed for pictures as they left the stage, they kept their arms at their sides (or in Ingebrigtsen’s case, in front of him in a double thumbs-up); no one threw his arm around the other, as the para athletes and field eventers had done before them and the sprinters would do afterwards.

Kerr states the obvious: they aren’t friends

“We’re not friends,” Kerr said in the breakout session. “We don’t hang out, we don’t text. We race each other and that’s our relationship…I wouldn’t say I dislike him. I don’t have many opinions on his personal life. I don’t know his personal life.”

But the rivals are alike in many ways. Both possess oodles of confidence, both are unafraid to speak their mind, and both are chasing the same goal this year, Olympic champion (Ingebrigtsen is chasing it for the second time). None of those things are bad, but when you put two people like that together, sparks are going to fly — because only one can wear 1500 gold in Paris.

“He’s trying to be the best in the world and so am I, and if that ruffles some feathers, it’s okay,” Kerr said.

Ingebrigtsen has contributed the lion’s share of the content in this winter’s off-the-track battles with Kerr. At least four news outlets visited Ingebrigtsen’s home in Sandnes, Norway, this offseason to document his comeback from an Achilles injury and those visits often included thoughts on Kerr. It is rare for an athlete of Ingebrigtsen’s stature to grant that sort of access, particularly while rehabbing, but Ingebrigtsen said he felt it was the best way to quell speculation.

“Sometimes it is to reduce the general noise, it’s better to explain what’s happening, kind of an update,” Ingebrigtsen says. “It’s part of the game at this level but it’s definitely not something I enjoy.”

Ingebrigtsen is a forthright individual. Ask him a direct question and usually you will get a direct answer. But it when it comes to Ingebrigtsen’s thoughts on Kerr, it can be hard to know how he really feels. In March, he told Rick Broadbent of The Times that “the biggest issue is giving people like Kerr attention. That’s what he is seeking.”

This was three weeks after Ingebrigtsen had told Norway’s TV2 that he could have beaten Kerr blindfolded after the latter’s 2-mile world record at the Millrose Games.

On Friday, Ingebrigtsen again seemed to be grappling with the border between professional and personal rivalry. He admitted that it was hard to put much stock in comments made by a rival athlete who does not know him as a person.

“It’s impossible to have some weight to different things that we say or mean about each other because at the end of the day, we’re all trying to win and we’re all trying to do our best,” Ingebrigtsen says. “If there’s something more than that, I don’t believe it.”

Kerr’s Podcast Criticisms of Ingebrigtsen Clearly Bothered Him

Yet it was clear that Kerr’s comments to the Sunday Plodcast in November, when he said that Ingebrigtsen was “surrounded by so many yes-men that you don’t realize that you have weaknesses,” were still a sore subject. 

Kerr prevailed in the duo’s last on-track battle (Kevin Morris photo)

“For them to have a personal issue – multiple layers of personal issues with me as a person and my family – is laughable,” Ingebrigtsen says. “The issue I’m having is acknowledging the fact that there’s a lot of issues there, which I just think is untrue…I just know that some things that they’re saying is just at the border of lying and maybe being a coward. Because nobody’s told me anything to my face. If I dislike someone and I have something I want to say to them, I approach them and I confront them and tell them what I mean, what I want…All of a sudden being each others’ friends while throwing each other under the bus in the winter when you’re in a safe environment in a podcast is a coward move.”

Kerr’s response?

“I’ve been honest throughout everything that I’ve said,” Kerr says. “I got asked a question and I answered it honestly. That’s pretty much it, really…I don’t mean any ill will to his family or anything like that…We’re fierce competitors. We both want to be the best in the world regardless of how the media spins things or how things are taken out of context.”


Ingebrigtsen calls on the stars to race more often and provides an injury update

So let’s talk about tomorrow’s race. It may not be as fast as last year’s Bowerman Mile, which produced the #3 and #4 times of all time, but it should still be quick. Neither Ingebrigtsen nor Kerr requested a specific pace (Ingebrigtsen said he was not even aware of what the pace would be), but Kerr said the rabbit is aiming for 1:53 through 800. That’s good news for Kerr, who has one eye on Steve Cram‘s 3:46.32 British record, but his top priority remains getting the victory. Kerr has run seven Diamond League 1500/miles in his life and has yet to win one.

“I’m here knowing that I can run under 3:46 so I’m okay with a negative split,” Kerr says. “…If the race is going to be won faster than that, then I would like to have that. But I’m just looking to cross that finish line first.”

The race will be a significant test for Ingebrigtsen, who was not sure he would be on the start line six months ago as he tended to his injured Achilles. He has since returned to running and is pleased with the progress he has made, but won’t get a full read on his fitness until Saturday.

Ingebrigtsen never shies away from a Diamond League race (Kevin Morris photo)

“When you’re not doing things that you have planned, it’s difficult to tell what the outcome is,” Ingebrigtsen says.” But in one way or another, it definitely affects the whole thing. I would say the last four, five months have been pretty good.”

Ingebrigtsen knows that the base he has built during the winter and spring is not as wide as usual. He has tried to hold his mileage as high as he can and push off his race-specific sessions until absolutely necessary, but feels it is important to return to racing now that he is healthy enough to do so.

“A big part of the sport is to not be only showing up when you are 100%,” Ingebrigtsen says. “…We all feed off the engagement and enthusiasm, especially from the crowd and the media and everything. And if we’re only saving that for one race or two races of the season, the whole point vanishes.”

It is a refreshing attitude, one that could benefit the sport if more athletes shared it. That attitude is also why Ingebrigtsen is not trying to overhype Prefontaine compared to other Diamond Leagues this year. He wishes more races were as deep as this one.

“It’s a pretty good field but at the same time, I think we should expect this field or something similar to be happening every race,” Ingebrigtsen says. “I don’t think we should put this race up on a pedestal and say this is only this once. I’m hoping that we can do this in every race, because we all need to show up and we all need to do our best in every race, because that’s what people want. That’s what makes it exciting.”

While some athletes start slowly and try to peak hard for the championships, Ingebrigtsen usually tries to maintain a high level throughout the season. He expects things to be slightly different this year after his injury.

“For the first time, I am in a position where every day going forward from here, I will just get better because the time since my injury will just be further back,” Ingebrigtsen says. “Which is kind of nice, but that’s not the usual case because I am training pretty good throughout the whole year for many, many years. If you can tweak it right, you can be at your best even at the first race.”

While the pre-talk (and most of this article) has centered around Kerr and Ingebrigtsen, the Bowerman Mile is one of the strongest ever assembled and will not be a two-man race. Five guys in the field have run under 3:49, including World Indoor medalists Cole Hocker and Hobbs Kessler of the United States, and that sub-3:49 group does not include 2022 world outdoor champ Jake Wightman or 2024 world indoor champ Geordie Beamish.

“There’s focus on myself and Jakob and Yared, but the guys that aren’t at the press conference maybe could be fitter than we are right now,” Kerr says.

Nuguse, for one, would love to win it. Yes, because it would confirm that he is heading in the right direction as the Olympic Trials and Olympics approach. But also for the lols.

“It will be hilarious, I will say,” Nuguse says. “I can’t imagine what they’d be thinking in that case. But I’d like to think that for either of them, me winning is like the lesser evil.”

Talk about today’s press event on our world-famous messageboard/fan forum: MB: Jakob Ingebrigtsen calls Josh Kerr’s podcast comments “a coward move”


Full pre-race interview with Jakob Ingebrigtsen

Full pre-race interview with Josh Kerr

Full pre-race interview with Yared Nuguse

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