Karsten Warholm remembers two things about that moment when everything changed – in that magical race, in his career and in his life.
It was just before the last hurdle and a crazy 30m run to the finish line in the 400m hurdles at the Tokyo Olympics. He spotted his rival, Ry Benjamin, suddenly approaching his left shoulder. Exhausted and without oxygen, he began to see stars. And then, in an instant, Benjamin was gone and Warholm was crossing the finish line to win the gold medal for Norway, a rarity in a country far better known for its winter sports, salmon and oil wealth.
Both Warholm and Benjamin broke the previous world record that day, turning their Tuesday night rematch into an unmissable event at this week’s World Championships in Athletics at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. to the final with Benjamin on Sunday when both won their semi-final heats. Together, they give the 400m hurdles a status it hasn’t had since Edwin Moses’ 122 consecutive race victories in the 1980s.
However, despite all his fame, Moses did not have a single rival throughout his career, like the 26-year-old Warholm in the person of Benjamin, who is 24 years old. last world championship. While they are friendly off the track, their duel is now as intense as the Viking roar that Warholm lets out as he punches himself in the upper chest, just below the shoulders, before loading into blocks to start each race. It’s a rivalry that the sport desperately needs.
“He trains in the USA; I train in Norway. He is Nike; I am Puma,” Warholm said in a recent interview from his home in Oslo. “He is fighting for his first gold medal. I’m trying to protect my territory.”
Now about this roar and blow to the chest.
Warholm said the ritual began at a training session in Oslo. Due to the fact that the country is so small (about 5.4 million people), and the track is something of a minor, much inferior to cross-country skiing, he never had competitions. His coach and a few quarter mile runners are his daily training companion.
This meant that he had to find a way to pump out the adrenaline before the practice run. He once tried roaring and chest punching and liked it.
He used to hit himself a little below the torso. The coach then informed him that beating his heart right before the quarter mile sprint was a terrible idea. He listened and raised the point of contact, but continued to pound. The sound of his fist hitting his flesh can echo through the bottom bowl of the running stadium.
“There’s a lot of power put into it,” Warholm said.
However, roars and punches to Warholm’s chest may not be enough to overcome his final hurdle. In June, at his first 400m hurdles of the season, Warholm stopped with a hamstring injury after his first hurdles run. Since then, he and his coach Leif Alnes have thought of nothing else but being healthy ahead of their World Championship rematch with Benjamin.
When Warholm stopped at that race in Rabat, Morocco, Alnes was relieved that his favorite student hadn’t collapsed to the ground, which often happens with a severe hamstring tear. However, the 400m hurdles is basically a sprint, and in a sprint, 99 percent health is not enough. If Warholm isn’t 100 percent, he won’t run.
“I always say, if you don’t have time to do it right right now, then when you have time,” Alnes said in a recent interview. “We must be wise. This is not a decision that can be based on emotions.”
As a child, Warholm was fond of football and winter sports, having grown up near the west coast of Norway, in the fjords, but as a teenager he became a track and field star and never looked back. He was originally a decathlete. His two best sports were the 400m and 110m hurdles. Alnes, a longtime coach with the Norwegian athletics federation, told him that combining the two events would be the fastest route to the Olympics.
He was right. Warholm qualified in the 400m hurdles at the 2016 Rio Olympics where he failed to reach the final, but posted 10th in the semi-finals. The following year in London, he won his first World Championship at just 21 years old. Track and field experts said it was a fluke, as Warholm won with the slowest win time at the World Championships.
Nobody calls him lucky now.
Moses said that Warholm’s life and training regimen in Norway, away from distractions and his competition, is most likely helping him.
“Competitors are promoting your knowledge and your training,” Moses said in an interview. “I knew what a good runner Harald Schmid was and that by the time I got to California he had worked all day and ended up in West Germany.”
Warholm met Moses many years ago at the Oslo track and field competition, and Moses has long been an influence on Warholm’s career. Moses, who has a degree in physics and is considered the Albert Einstein of the 400m hurdles, was one of the first competitors to complete just 13 steps between the hurdles.
14 used to be the standard. Now almost everyone uses 13, including Warholm, although he stands at just under 6ft 2in, a few inches shorter than many of his main competitors, making it harder for him.
Heading to Tokyo, the fight with Benjamin was supposed to be special. Benjamin came close to 500 seconds off the world record at the U.S. Olympic Trials in late June. The sign stood for almost 29 years. Warholm then surpassed him in July by eight hundredths. Both assumed that in order to win the gold medal, it would be necessary to break it again.
Warholm likes to start fast, widening the gap between himself and the left runner while making the gap between himself and the right runner disappear. Tokyo is no exception.
Within 100 meters, he overtook Alison dos Santos, champion of Brazil. For a moment, Warholm thought he was starting too fast. But there was no going back.
As he passed the last corner, he caught a glimpse of Benjamin approaching his left shoulder. It all came down to the last hurdle. Warholm had a clean pass when he needed it the most. Benjamin nearly hit the mark.
“I saw him and then I didn’t see him again,” he said.
He waved his arms and rushed to the finish line. He looked at the scoreboard, saw his time and clutched his head. In high-tech spikes on one of the fastest tracks ever built, he ran 45.94, three-quarters of a second faster than his previous record, but just a quarter of a second ahead of Benjamin.
It was a rare gold medal in running for Norway and the first for the country since 1996, and there may be more now that people see it is possible.
“It’s like a rock that’s thrown into the water and the waves go very far if it’s big enough,” Alnes said.
Four days later, his compatriot Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway won gold in the 1500 meters, turning the two men into icons of their country at the level of its skiers.
Warholm spends his free time building elegant Lego models. He has one from the Colosseum in Rome and another from Hogwarts, from Harry Potter and London Bridge. It’s a release, he said, to do something other than run and stare at the screen. He also enjoys building model sports cars. He built models of Lamborghini, Bugatti and McLaren. He drives a Porsche Taycan, an electric sports car.
When he’s having a bad day, he pulls out his phone and searches for a video of his race from last year’s Olympics. He did this at least 15 times. It always works.
“Forever this will be my most important race,” he said. “I will never have the chance to win my first Olympic gold medal again.”
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