Mike Rowbottom

All races at the World Athletics Championships are equal - but some are more equal than others. Ask Jakob Ingebrigtsen. Ask Femke Bol.

Both these be-medalled athletes took to the track on the concluding night of the Championships that have been a triumph themselves in Budapest knowing that they had vital things to put right.

At 23, Norway’s Ingebrigtsen has already established himself as one of the wonders of the athletics world. People were talking about him when he was 16, foreseeing a golden future that came rapidly to pass as, with extraordinary confidence, he earned the 1500 metres and 5,000m titles at the European Championships in Berlin. And that was just for starters.

At the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics he won gold in what is, for now, his signature event of the 1500m. The addition of a world 1500m title seemed only a matter of time.

But at last year’s World Championships in Eugene he was confounded by an audacious challenge from Britain’s Jake Wightman, who moved past him on the outside as the field came round the final bend for the last time and held his lead all the way down the straight. A sensation.

One year on, in Budapest, like a recurring nightmare, the same thing happened to the Norwegian phenomenon. Another Briton, indeed another member of Edinburgh Athletics Club, applied exactly the same tactic with the same results. This time he found himself standing one step lower on the podium than Josh Kerr.

Ingebrigtsen said afterwards that he had not been feeling 100 per cent, and that he had been suffering from a sore throat. This prompted some mockery on social media, with one comment citing “soreloseritis”.

The Norwegian had upped the ante in his semi-final by gesturing extravagantly to the crowd on the home straight and urging them to greater appreciation as he moved from an awful to a winning position. The same attitude was evident before the 1500m final, when, upon being announced, he raised his index finger in the air as an indicator of where he was destined to finish.

That did not come to pass. To lose one 1500m race to a Briton may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness.

So when Ingebrigtsen lined up for last night’s 5,000 metres final he was facing not just an eager group of top Ethiopian talents and the rising challenger Mohamed Katir of Spain, but, perhaps, the beginnings of doubt; intimations of athletics mortality.

Waylaid by the green-shirted Ethiopian challenge at the beginning of the final straight as Katir went for broke, Ingebrigtsen’s task seemed like something posed by a particularly fiendish computer game.

Working, working he drew level with the Spaniard over the closing 15 metres, moving slightly ahead before dipping for victory at the line.

This was not the usual Ingebrigtsen victory. This looked exhausting. He spoke again afterwards of having a virus. In the circumstances this demonstration of will power, of self-belief, was something to behold.

Asked afterwards if he ever had a moment’s doubt he was going to be the champion, he replied with his customary wryness: "Yes." "Which part?" "In the race? Like, the first 4,950."

Whether Ingebrigtsen ever adds the world 1500m title to his CV he can walk away from Budapest - and towards the Paris 2024 Olympics - having made a successful defence of his 5,000m title.

For Bol, similarly, there was huge significance in her closing performance at the 19th World Athletics Championships.

Having fallen face-down a couple of metres short of securing Dutch victory in the 400m mixed relay on the opening night of the Championships, she had recovered her equilibrium to earn her first global title in the 400m hurdles. But there was unfinished relay business for her as anchor leg runner in the women’s 4x400m final.

Femke Bol made up for her late slip in the mixed 4x400 metres relay as she snatched victory for the Netherlands in the closing strides of the women's 4x400 metres relay, the final event of the championships ©Getty Images
Femke Bol made up for her late slip in the mixed 4x400 metres relay as she snatched victory for the Netherlands in the closing strides of the women's 4x400 metres relay, the final event of the championships ©Getty Images

The 23-year-old from Amersfoot took over the baton on the last leg a couple of metres behind the Jamaican and British last-leg runners, Stacey Ann Williams and Nicole Yeargin and by the back straight the gap between her and the leader was around 10 metres.

As the medal contenders reached the home straight victory seemed destined for the Jamaicans.

But the crowd noise rose as Bol’s late charge looked likely to earn silver instead of bronze as she neared the Briton in second place. She duly passed Nicole Yeargin 30 metres from the line before sending the decibel level up still further by overtaking Williams in the final two strides - a significant section of track for her - to bring the baton home in 3:20.72.

"The first three legs went so well, I felt like I had to finish as strongly as I could," Bol said. "I wanted to stay patient, but in the last metres I said 'No, we have to take it'.

"It was one of my most important runs ever, but it is the first time we became world champions so it applies for all of us. Every tenth and hundredth of a second was needed. We had good exchanges and still barely won it."

Peeters, whose own third-leg efforts had been crucial, added: "To be honest, I was already happy with a bronze medal, then I realised we might win a silver, and was shocked at the end with the gold."

It’s what can happen when great athletes take on challenges that will help to define them.