On the eve of the European Athletics Team Championships First League in their native Sandnes, Norway’s Ingebrigtsen brothers – Henrik, Filip and Jakob – were focused on the job of earning maximum points, especially in the absence of world and European 400m hurdles champion Karsten Warholm, who was to have run the 400m and 4x400m for the hosts, but had to pull out today because of illness.
Their excitement was shared by teammate and para-athlete Salum Kashafali, 100m world record holder in the T12 visually impaired category, who has been selected as Norway’s choice in the main men’s 100m event.
The 25-year-old, who arrived in Norway as a refugee from the Congo when he was 11, was classified as a para athlete earlier this year as he suffers from a degenerative, congenital eye disease that is expected, eventually, to claim his sight.
In his first para race he set a world record of 10.58, and he improved that to 10.46 at the Oslo meeting. Last weekend he won the main national title, beating the original selection for the 100m here, 10.22 runner Jonathan Quarcoo, who has since ended his season early because of injury.
“It means a lot to me in many ways,” said Kashafali. “Especially as the competition is on home soil. It’s been a long road for me. To be racing against this calibre of athlete, to be competing with some of the best sprinters in Europe, and to show myself as a para athlete, means more to me than I can describe. I’m going to give it my all. It’s all about the team, it’s about being here and being a part of it. It’s bigger than just me.
“I’m very excited. I never expected to compete at this level but I have the chance to show that even though I am vision-impaired I can still race against the best. Everybody has their own challenges. It’s about how you look at it. In my way I have faith in God. Secondly – hard work pays off. I train hard, I see an opportunity and do my best. Everything is possible - it doesn’t matter if you cannot see, cannot walk, you can always do something, get up and train and do enough to succeed.”
European 1500m champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen is looking forward to what will be a novel, perhaps unique, experience.
“This is the track where I am usually relaxed and nobody is watching and I am putting in all the tough work I have to be doing, and then all of sudden the whole of Europe comes to my town and tries to compete against us,” he said. “So it’s really strange, but I also want to show the other athletes our city and out track. It’s exciting for us, and also for our crowd to be in an event like this.
“For us it’s most important to reach the finish-line first. We need the points more than times. And we are also depending on our other team members. They need to be at their highest level. Unfortunately some have been unable to be here, so even before we start we are in a worse position than we should be, but I am going to do my best. I can only race once!”
His elder brother Henrik, who will run the 3000m, concurred with his approach. “The time doesn’t really matter,” he said. “The forecast says the weather is not going to be ideal for running fast, so we’ll just run whatever race happens and respond to that, and hopefully we will be able to collect quite a lot of points for Norway. Of course I’ve been looking forward to this ever since I heard this event was taking place here. We don’t have a lot of big competitions here.”
Commenting on the newly laid surface in the Sandnes Stadium that is just a few hundred metres from the family home, Henrik added: “I think it’s similar to the one they put down in Bislett Stadium. I prefer old tracks because they are so much harder. But for training its perfect, and for this championship it might be OK also, because it’s brand new so it also drains the water quite fast.”
On the news that Warholm was out, Henrik said: “We will definitely lose a lot of points because of that. I’m afraid that because Karsten is not competing and we have a few not so good events I think we have to be higher in our level overall.
“Hopefully in a few years we will have a better chance of competing for the first place and maybe the Super League. But right now, even with Karsten there, it would be too much. Turkey are strong, and also the Netherlands are way better than us in some events.”
On the news that Warholm would be unable to compete in the event, Norway’s 400m hurdles record holder Amalie Iuel commented: “We might take a bit of a hit, but we have got to make the best of it. I think it’s really cool to be hosting this event. It’s a great way to show of our beautiful country. I’m a big fan of the Team Championships. It’s a way to bond with your teammates and cheer on each other.”
Reflecting on the fact that Lithuania were promoted from the Second League in 2017, Edis Matusevicius, third in this year’s European men’s javelin list after throwing 89.17m at his national championships on July 27, said: “Our main goal is to get as many points as we can to try and stay in the First League. I will do all I can for that.”
Earlier last month he won silver at the Universiade in Naples with a best of 80.07m – having topped qualifying with a national record of 84.93.
“In the final I didn’t produce what I expected from myself,” he reflected. “So the major thing was I got mad on myself, and after that I did 89.17 at the national championships. So maybe that was a good thing that I didn’t win, I got second, so that motivated me to improve.”
Nadine Visser of the Netherlands, the European indoor 60m hurdles champion, commented: “We were relegated from the Super League in 2017 – so our aim is to get promotion. Track and field in our country is making big steps. We will fight to win promotion. We don’t talk about the athletes we are missing. We have good team and chances to win and we are going for that."
On being awarded this event just nine months ago, Jan Norheim, General Director of the Local Organizing Committee, commented: “This is the biggest international sporting event in this area since 1989, when Stavanger held the World Cross Country Championships. We have around 500 volunteers. And we have 12,000 ticket sales in total over three days.
"There is some rain which is shadowing this event. But at least we have a very nice set-up with all the facilities that have been upgraded.”
European Athletics representative Gregor Bencina from Slovenia added: “The organisers have done a tremendous job to prepare everything in order to host more than 500 athletes and 200 coaches and officials. Only one team will be promoted and four will go down. That’s why this event is especially important to teams this year. There are four similar events taking place in four cities – it means we can call it a European Athletics Weekend.”