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Josh Kerr is the entertainer athletics needs at World Indoor Championships

Interview: The golden boy of British athletics is back on home soil to compete in the 3,000m as he steps up preparation for a summer showdown with rival Jakob Ingebrigtsen at the Paris Olympics

Lawrence Ostlere
Thursday 29 February 2024 16:59 GMT
Josh Kerr celebrates as he prepares to clinch the indoor two-mile world record in New York on 11 February
Josh Kerr celebrates as he prepares to clinch the indoor two-mile world record in New York on 11 February (Getty)

Josh Kerr has never lacked confidence but he is absolutely brimming with it right now.

He is the reigning 1500m world champion after winning a sensational gold in Budapest last August. He just broke the indoor two-mile world record at the Millrose Games in New York – a feat he predicted ahead of time – and set an obscene half-marathon time of 61 min 51 sec in San Diego in December. In between, he found time to pick apart the weaknesses of Jakob Ingebrigtsen on a podcast, spraying petrol on the fire of a rivalry which will be one of the most compelling storylines of this summer’s Paris Olympics.

In the form of his life, Scotland’s track superstar is understandably relishing the role of poster boy for the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Glasgow this weekend. There had been weeks of speculation over whether he would even compete here, making the long journey from his training base in Seattle. Plenty of notable British names are absent, like Dina Asher-Smith and Keely Hodgkinson, who have opted to focus on preparations for Paris. But Kerr felt it was a rare opportunity he couldn’t miss.

“It feels like an honour,” Kerr says of being the team’s natural figurehead. “I think there’s an element that I have to go out and earn that. I don’t feel like I’ve done the British fans as proud as I could have over the past couple of years [Kerr finished 12th at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham] so it’s really exciting to come back in very good shape, ready to go after a world title on home soil. I feel like that’s what the UK fans deserve from me.”

Kerr is the 1500m world champion after winning gold last year (PA)
Kerr celebrates becoming a world champion in Budapest (Getty)

As a world championship medallist, Kerr qualified automatically for the world indoors but felt he didn’t want to parachute in and take the spot of a teammate who had worked hard to qualify. That policy ruled him out of the 1500m, given the progress of 25-year-olds Adam Fogg and Callum Elson – “we had a couple of guys in there that I thought were deserving of a spot,” Kerr says – so he opted for the 3,000m instead.

It is a longer distance against a tougher field, and perhaps a couple of years ago Kerr would not have been among the favourites against a stack of steeplechasers and endurance specialists. They include the reigning champion, Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega, as well as US champion Yared Nuguse, a potential rival to Kerr over 1500m in Paris.

But Kerr is typically bullish about his chances. “Look, I’m in fantastic shape. I obviously showed that at Millrose, and I think I’m going to be a real problem for whoever’s going to be on that 3k start list. There’s Nuguse, and we’re going to have some very competitive Ethiopians that have shown they can run mid-7.20s, so I think it’s going to be a great race and that’s what I signed up for. I haven’t signed up for an easy win. I’ve signed up for a hard race at a world championships in front of a home crowd.”

Ingebrigtsen will not be one of those opponents in Glasgow as he recovers from an achilles injury. They have not raced since the world championship final in Budapest, the night when Kerr tactically outmanoeuvred a devastated Ingebrigtsen, but that has not stopped them from trading barbs in the meantime. Kerr recently tore apart the Norwegian’s strategy while speaking to The Sunday Plodcast, saying Ingrebigtsen was “surrounded by yes men” and didn’t understand his “major weaknesses”.

Asked whether Ingebrigtsen needed to run more races without a pacemaker in order to improve his tactical acumen, Kerr replied: “I do think people will start realising that a little bit now, but I don’t think he will, because the ego is pretty high on this one ... I would love for him to be listening to this.”

Kerr has built an entertaining rivalry with Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen (Getty for World Athletics)
Kerr beats Ingebrigtsen to the line in the world championship final (AP)

Ingebrigtsen responded by saying he could beat Kerr’s new two-mile indoor record “blindfolded”. It all adds a little spice to middle-distance running that can only benefit athletics, a sport which can sometimes feel like it’s still finding its feet in the post-Bolt era. It needs new characters, new storylines. Kerr’s rivalry with Ingebrigtsen is certainly one of those, and he knows it.

“There’s a bit of banter back and forth that I think is entertaining some people,” says Kerr, with the faintest trace of a smile. “I don’t really have much of a filter, which is sometimes not great for interviews, so you’ll get titbits here and there of me saying some things that maybe come off a little bit hard. I don’t shy away from it, I’m a pretty honest genuine person, so these are normally my thoughts that are coming out unfiltered. I don’t particularly thrive on it but I’m not going to shy away from giving my true and full opinion.”

Do they share the odd message in private? “I wouldn’t particularly say so. He’s obviously a big character and a big name in our sport and so he draws a lot of eyeballs, and those are the questions that sometimes people want to ask me. I give honest answers and reviews and I think he does the same. I don’t think it really cuts too deep on either end. There’s no ill will towards him. It’s just I’m a competitive guy and I want to win and so sometimes that comes out in different ways. But I think he’s in a similar situation. I think we’re gonna race a couple times before we get to the major championships so it should be a fantastic and exciting year for everyone watching.”

Kerr’s utter dedication to his craft is ultimately what transformed him from a competitive professional to someone capable of beating world-class athletes such as Ingebrigtsen and becoming a world champion himself. His decision to relocate to the west coast of America to work with coach Danny Mackey six years ago has paid off spectacularly. The 26-year-old now employs three full-time staff, including a chef to fuel the peak years of his career.

He has avoided any knocks or strains since last summer’s world title, and thus not missed a single day of training through injury or illness, even putting himself through a couple of hard runs on Christmas Day. It is another factor in Kerr’s supreme form right now. “Consistency is my biggest weapon,” he says. “I’ll break any athlete down with how consistent I’m going to be training-wise, just getting the work in. I don’t feel like I do these crazy workouts or this crazy mileage or anything too special. I just don’t miss days.”

Kerr celebrates after breaking Mo Farah’s two-mile record (Getty)
Kerr poses with his world-record time at the Millrose Games (Getty)

He had been building endurance over longer distances through the winter ahead of that two-mile world record, where he clocked 8 min 0.67 sec to break Mo Farah’s long-standing mark by nearly three seconds. Farah’s name is still plastered across almost every British outdoor record from 1500m up to the marathon, and Kerr now has his sights set on a few of those.

“I was messaging some people from Farah’s team just saying, ‘there’s a reason that record stood for so long, that was incredibly hard’. I loved going after one of Farah’s records. Obviously, he has such an amazing legacy in our sport and it’s really cool to take a record away from someone like him, and hopefully it’s not the last record I take from him this year. But you know, I’ve got a lot of work to do before that.”

Kerr admits the two-mile world record “took a toll on the body”, driving in hard laps on a compact indoor track with tight bends. He spent four days recovering with some “easy running” before flying from Seattle to Scotland last week. There, he began nine days of sea-level training, working out any jetlag in the system to be ready for these Glasgow championships. “There’s no excuses on my behalf if things don’t go the way I want them to,” he says.

Kerr has been enjoying spending time with family this week, and he is excited to be performing in front of home fans. But his goal is clear, and his self-belief is unwavering.

“Win. I’m capable of it, I’m in fantastic shape. It’s a lot easier said than done … but I’m focused on trying to get a gold medal for our team and hopefully, doing it in front of a home crowd inspires the right people to continue our tradition.”

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