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Norway’s fastest – and most famous – running family is ripped apart by allegations of ‘aggression and physical punishment’

By George Ramsay and Li-Lian Ahlskog Hou, CNN

(CNN) — In a quiet corner of a Tokyo stadium, a father wipes tears away from his eyes. He has just watched his 20-year-old son win a first Olympic gold in thrilling fashion, patiently chasing down and passing fierce Kenyan rival Timothy Cheruiyot on the final bend of the 1,500-meter final.

The moment would be an emotional one for any parent, but even more so if you have coached your son throughout his running career. Such was the case for Gjert Ingebrigtsen, who was the coach to three of his seven children: Henrik, Filip and Jakob, the one who raced to Olympic gold in Tokyo two years ago.

Today, however, the family dynamic has shifted. The three running brothers ended their coaching relationship with their father last year, prompting a swathe of speculation about a potential rift in Norway’s fastest – and most famous – sporting family.

Now the three brothers have spoken publicly about the reasons for no longer being coached by their father, alleging that he is aggressive, controlling and has used physical violence and threats towards them.

“We still feel discomfort and fear, which lays within us since childhood,” Henrik, Filip, and Jakob wrote in a story for Norwegian newspaper VG, which was published last week.

“Somehow, we have accepted this. We have lived with it, and in adult age we have moved on. At least we thought so. In retrospect, we realize that it was naive.”

They said that two years ago, a few months before ending their coaching relationship with their father, “the same aggression and physical punishment struck again. That was the final straw.”

Gjert Ingebrigtsen has denied these accusations. In comments sent to CNN Sport via his legal representative, Elden Advokatfirma, he said: “The statements that my sons made are baseless. I have never used violence against my children.

“That I have had weaknesses as a father, and have been too much of a coach, is a realization I have also come to – albeit far too late.”

On Thursday, Norwegian police said that they had carried out “preliminary investigations” into the brothers’ allegations and have now opened a case under a criminal code relating to “abuse in close relationships.”

In a statement shared with CNN Sport, inspector Terese Braut Våge said: “This means that we are now in an investigation phase, where the purpose of the investigation is to uncover whether there are criminal circumstances.”

John Christian Elden, the lawyer representing Gjert, told CNN Sport that his client has not yet been charged with any criminal offense.

“This was not unexpected, and my client is confident of the outcome of such an investigation,” said Elden, adding that it is Gjert’s “only opportunity to be cleared of any wrongdoing.”

The brothers’ account of their relationship with their father in VG did not provide details about specific instances of abuse or physical violence. And days after the story was published, another Ingebrigtsen brother, Martin, who is not a professional athlete, defended Gjert, telling VG: “Fortunately, fear is an unknown feeling to me. I never feared dad.

“I must honestly admit that I find it difficult to see this great fear, when others in the family are constantly visiting and have recently been on holiday with Gjert.”

In an interview with the New York Times last year, Jakob spoke about the tension within the family, saying: “Our father is really anxious and that affects everybody around him. And that quickly evolves to anger towards competitions. Because he’s anxious and he has nerves and he responds by getting irritated and angry about the little stuff.”

CNN has contacted representatives for the Ingebrigtsen brothers for further comment.

One of Norway’s ‘biggest athletes’

Henrik, 32, Filip, 30, and Jakob, 23, are all decorated middle and long-distance runners. Jakob, however, is the family’s most successful athlete, winning world and Olympic titles and setting indoor records over 1,500m and 2,000m.

“Jakob is one of the best and biggest athletes in Norway – like [soccer players] Erling Haaland and Martin Ødegaard, or [golfer] Viktor Hovland,” Herman Folvik, a sports journalist for VG, told CNN Sport.

But it’s not for their running prowess alone that the brothers have gained celebrity status in Norway. Team Ingebrigtsen, a documentary series first aired in 2016, has shed light on the family dynamic, particularly the father-coach relationship between Gjert and his sons.

“I would say that after the royal family, I think they are the most famous family in Norway,” said Folvik. “[The documentary] about the running brothers and Gjert also got really close to the mother [Tone] and the other siblings.”

The brothers and Gjert announced their split in February 2022, less than a year after Jakob had won gold at the Tokyo Olympics.

In their story in VG, which was published on October 19, Henrik, Filip, and Jakob explained how media scrutiny of their relationship with Gjert had compelled them to speak publicly about their family environment.

“When we broke with Gjert, we thought we would be able to handle the situation in an orderly manner, without mentioning the underlying circumstances,” they said.

“We now realize that is not possible. This matter has become so inflamed, and has had such great consequences, that we feel a responsibility to clean it up.”

They described the situation as a “family conflict” and said that they now hope to achieve “peace for all parties.”

In his comments to CNN Sport, Gjert lamented the “tragic situation” for the Ingebrigtsens.

“Our family has lived in the public spotlight for many years, and we have chosen to let the public into our lives through TV series, interviews and much more,” he said.

“That violence should have occurred in this public family life is unthinkable. The Norwegian people have seen our lives, for better or for worse … I don’t know how we’re going to get past this – but we have to try.”

The situation between the father and his three sons is complicated by the fact that Gjert is currently coaching another Norwegian athlete, Narve Gilje Nordås, who won a bronze medal in the 1,500 meters at this year’s world championships – finishing fractionally behind Jakob.

The Norwegian Athletics Federation has recently said that Gjert would not be granted accreditation as a coach for international competitions – next year’s world indoor championships and European championships.

In two separate statements, the federation said that it wants to create a “safe environment” for athletes and made reference to comments made by the Ingebrigtsen brothers in the media. It also said that it would recommend that Gjert would not receive accreditation for next year’s Paris Olympics.

Nordås, meanwhile, has said that he plans to make a statement in the coming days. He has called the situation absurd and said he continues to train with Gjert.

As for Jakob, he is essentially self-coached but continues to lean on his older brothers for advice. Still arguably the most dominant middle-distance runner in the world, he holds lofty ambitions for his track and field career.

“I don’t want to sound immodest,” he said in an interview earlier this year, “but my main goal is to become the best runner of all time, for which I still have a lot of work to do.”

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