Track World Championships: Updates and Results
Karsten Warholm remembers two things about when everything changed – in that magical ride, in his career and in his life.
It was just before the last hurdle and the crazy 30-meter sprint to the finish of the 400-meter hurdles at the Tokyo Olympics. He saw his rival, Rai Benjamin, suddenly close on his left shoulder. Exhausted and out of oxygen, he began to see stars. And then, in an instant, Benjamin was gone, and Warholm crossed the finish line to win the gold medal for Norway, a rarity for a country far better known for winter sports, salmon and wealth. petroleum.
Both Warholm and Benjamin broke the previous world record that day, turning their Tuesday night rematch into a can’t-miss event at this week’s World Championships in Athletics at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. in the final with Benjamin on Sunday, when the two won their semifinals. Together, they give the 400-meter hurdles a stature it hasn’t had since Edwin Moses won 122 consecutive victories in the race in the 1980s.
For all his stardom, however, Moses hasn’t had a singular rival throughout his career like 26-year-old Warholm in 24-year-old Benjamin. Warholm and Benjamin also finished one-two, and in the same order, at the last world championships. Although they are friendly off the track, theirs is now a duel as intense as the Viking roar Warholm lets out as he punches his upper chest, just below his shoulders, before charging. in blocks to start each run. It’s a rivalry the sport desperately needs.
“He trains in the United States; I train in Norway. It’s Nike; I am Puma,” Warholm said in a recent interview from his home in Oslo. “He is fighting for his first gold medal. I try to defend my territory.
Now, about that roar and thump in your chest.
Warholm said the ritual began during training in Oslo. Because the country is so small (about 5.4 million people) and the track is something of an afterthought, far behind Nordic skiing, it has never had competition. His trainer and a few female quarter-milers are the extent of his daily company in training.
This meant he had to find a way to get his adrenaline pumping before a practice run. He tried the roar and chest bang one day and loved it.
He used to hit himself a little lower on his chest. Then, a trainer informed him that banging on his heart right before a quarter-mile sprint was a really bad idea. He listened and lifted the contact point but continued to hammer. The sound of his fist hitting his flesh can resonate in the lower bowl of an athletics stadium.
“There’s a lot of power going into it,” Warholm said.
However, roars and chest thrusts may not be enough for Warholm to overcome his final hurdle. In June, in his first 400-meter hurdles race of the season, Warholm stopped with a hamstring injury after the first hurdle. Since then, he and his coach, Leif Alnes, have thought of nothing but trying to get healthy for the World Championship rematch with Benjamin.
When Warholm stopped in that race in Rabat, Morocco, Alnes was relieved that his precious pupil hadn’t collapsed to the ground, which often happens with a severe hamstring tear. That said, the 400-meter hurdles is essentially a sprint, and in a sprint, 99% healthy is not enough. If Warholm isn’t 100%, he won’t show up.
“I always say, if you don’t have time to do it right now, then when will you have time,” Alnes said in a recent interview. “We must be wise. It is not a decision that can be based on emotions.
Warholm dabbled in football and winter sports growing up near Norway’s west coast in the fjords, but became a track star at the age of 18 and never never looked back. He was first a decathlete. His two best events are the 400 meters and the 110 meters hurdles. Alnes, a long-time coach with the Norwegian Athletics Federation, told him that combining these two events would be the quickest route to the Olympics.
He was right. Warholm qualified in the 400 meters hurdles for the Rio 2016 Olympics, where he failed to qualify for the final but recorded the 10th fastest time in the semi-finals. The following year, in London, he won his first world championship at just 21 years old. Track pundits said it was a fluke, as Warholm won with the slowest time at a world championship.
Nobody calls him a fluke now.
Moses said Warholm’s life and training regimen in Norway, away from distractions and his competition, most likely helped him.
“Rivals propel your knowledge and training,” Moses said in an interview. “I knew what a good runner Harald Schmid was and that by the time I got up in California he had worked a full day and finished in West Germany.”
Warholm met Moses years ago at an athletics meet in Oslo, 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 among the first competitors in the event to take just 13 steps between the hurdles.
Previously, 14 was the norm. Now almost everyone uses 13, including Warholm, although at just under 6ft 2in he is several inches shorter than many of his top competitors, making it more difficult for him.
On the way to Tokyo, the confrontation with Benjamin proved to be special. Benjamin was within five hundredths of a second of the world record at the US Olympic trials in late June. The brand had lasted for nearly 29 years. Then Warholm broke it in July by eight hundredths. The two assumed that winning the gold medal would require breaking it again.
Warholm likes to get off to a fast start, stretching the gap between him and the runner to his left while making the gap between himself and the runner to his right disappear. Tokyo was no exception.
In the 100 meters, he had passed Alison dos Santos, the Brazilian champion. For a moment, Warholm thought he might have started too soon. But there was no turning back.
As he came to the final bend, he saw Benjamin closing in on his left shoulder. It was all going to come down to the final hurdle. Warholm had a clean pass when he needed it most. Benjamin very slightly missed his target.
“I saw him, then I didn’t see him again,” he said.
He pumped his arms and sprinted for the finish. He looked up at the dashboard, saw his time and grabbed 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 only a quarter of a second ahead of Benjamin.
It was a rare gold in the race for Norway and the country’s first since 1996, with perhaps more to come now that people see what is possible.
“It’s like the rock that gets thrown into the water and the waves go really far if it’s big enough,” Alnes said.
Four days later, his fellow Norwegian Jakob Ingebrigtsen won gold in the 1,500 meters, making the two men icons in their country at the level of its skiers.
Warholm spends his free time building models adorned with Legos. He has one from the Colosseum in Rome and another from Hogwarts, Harry Potter, and London Bridge. It’s a release, he says, something to do besides running and staring at a screen. He also enjoys building model sports cars. He built a Lamborghini model, a Bugatti and a 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 run at the Olympics last year. He did it at least 15 times. It still works.
“Forever this will be my most important race,” he said. “Never again will I have the chance to win my first Olympic gold medal.”