Josh Kerr beats 39-year-old British one-mile record – and bitter rival Jakob Ingebrigtsen

Josh Kerr wins/Josh Kerr beats 39-year British one-mile record – and bitter rival Jakob Ingebrigtsen
Josh Kerr took a decisive early-season blow over his biggest rival Jakob Ingebrigtsen (right) - AP /Thomas Boyd

The build-up - which contained accusations of disrespect, cowardly behaviour, egotism and a lack of manners - had been compared to MMA or boxing and it was duly followed by a decisive early-season blow.

After his shock 1500m World Championship win last year, Josh Kerr again defeated his arch-rival Jakob Ingebrigtsen en route to also taking Steve Cram’s 39-year-old British one mile record at the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League in Oregon.

Cram, who was commentating on the race, immediately hailed a performance that was the sixth fastest mile in history and also now puts Kerr ahead of the British middle-distance legends Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett. “That is a new British record - once held by Steve Cram - and I am so pleased, it’s about time,” said Cram.

Kerr’s winning time of 3min 45.34sec took almost exactly a second off Cram’s 1985 personal best and, while Hicham El Guerrouj’s 25-year-old world record did survive, Kerr was still emphatic in achieving his main aim of beating Ingebrigtsen. The Norwegian Olympic champion had complained of a fever when he lost the world 1500m title last summer, a remark that ignited a winter war of words from which Kerr has now followed up a world indoor title by winning their first big head-to-head of this Olympic year.

Ingebrigtsen, who had seemed especially irked by Kerr’s counter suggestion that he was surrounded by “yes men”, had declared in the pre-race press conference that it had been “a coward move” to speak about him on a podcast rather than to his face.

“I’m a man of some principle - if I have an issue with someone I will approach them,” said Ingebrigtsen, before acknowledging that all the hype was probably good for the sport. Kerr’s defence - “I was asked a question and I answered it honestly” - showed no sign of a backwards step and that was also his approach during a race that he approached with surprising aggression.

Rather than use his finishing kick, Kerr instead took on Ingebrigsten’s usual tactic by hitting the front with 600m to go before holding off his rival in the final lap ahead of British team-mates Neil Gourley and Jake Wightman, who both also set personal bests under 3min 48sec.

“If that was going to scare me, it was hopefully going to scare everyone else,” said Kerr. “I was just excited to race against a world class field and show I’m still the best 1500m runner in the world. We’re heading into the golden era of 1500m running in the UK and Europe.”

Ingebrigtsen dismisses Olympics favourite tag for Kerr

Ingebrigtsen, who applauded at the finish and shook Kerr’s hand, was satisfied after a winter disrupted by injury. He also suggested that Kerr has still not shown enough to be regarded as favourite for the Olympic title he won in Tokyo three years ago.

“It’s a very good start,” said Ingebrigtsen. “Everyone was maybe still surprised that someone is all of a sudden deciding to start racing. I think that is very good. This is not my final test. It was a good fight - some of my competitors have clearly taken a step in the right direction…not a big step - not as big of a step that maybe is needed to be favourite in Paris [for the Olympics]. It’s going to be an exciting summer. The last couple of years obviously I have been the only one racing for many of the races. It’s something different because I have kind of been racing myself.”

There was earlier also a hugely encouraging and intelligent performance by Keely Hodgkinson, who avenged her defeat in last year’s World Championship final by the Kenyan Mary Moraa.

Keely Hodgkinson gained an early season victory over world champion Mary Moraa in the 800m
Keely Hodgkinson gained an early season victory over world champion Mary Moraa in the 800m - AP/Thomas Boyd

In what was her first 800m race of the year, Hodgkinson wisely held back from Moraa’s rapid early pace before producing a wonderful final 300m to surge through the field and win in a world leading time of 1min 55.78sec. Moraa was just under a second behind, with Britain’s Jemma Reekie finishing third in 1min 57.45sec. Britain now have three women under 1min 58sec already this season following 17-year-old Phoebe Gill’s phenomenal European age-group record earlier this month.

Dina Asher-Smith and Daryll Neita were respectively also third and fourth over 100m while Laura Muir ran a season’s best 3min 56.35sec to finish fourth in a super fast women’s 1500m.