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How No Fear And Having Fun Helped Karsten Warholm To His World Record In Oslo

karsten warholm scaled

Karsten Warholm might have had Rai Benjamin’s recent run at the US Olympic Trials in mind as he took to the track in Oslo, but at the forefront of his thinking was the hard work he had put in to get to that point, and an intention to enjoy every moment.

Just 46.70 seconds after the gun went at the iconic Bislett Stadion on Thursday evening, the two-time world champion had produced quite the moment to savour.

The home crowd of 5000 went wild as the Norwegian star broke the world 400m hurdles record*, taking 0.08 off the mark set by Kevin Young at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, three and a half years before Warholm was even born.

As fans cheered their congratulations, Young too joined in on the action and spoke with his world record successor a short while after the all-time list had been rewritten.

“He was happy for me, and I think he knew that it was time,” Warholm said, with the magnitude of his performance beginning to sink in.

“But what can you say? It’s a record that is older than me. I don’t think this record will stand as long as his record, but it’s just amazing.”

Young’s record had been under threat for a while and when the USA’s world silver medallist Benjamin ran 46.83 in Eugene five days earlier, it appeared to be a matter of who would break it first.

But there was no pressure felt by Warholm as he prepared for his 400m hurdles season debut. Sitting with his coach Leif Olav Alnes the day before the Bislett Games, Warholm seemed relaxed and ready.

“We could be sitting here being all serious and just scared of tomorrow but instead we are trying to have fun,” explained the 25-year-old. “We are just going out there and having fun, and of course trying to be at our best level, but we shouldn’t let the pressure get in our way.

“That is something that Leif has taught me, that you should never let the pressure get in the way for you to be the best version of yourself.”


Karsten Warholm
Born: Ulsteinvik, 28 February 1996. Coach: Leif Olav Alnes

When Karsten Warholm first emerged on the international scene in 2013, it was clear that the young Norwegian was a huge talent.

He won the world U18 octathlon title in Donetsk with a margin of almost 200 points, and some of his marks in the eight disciplines would have been competitive in the individual finals.

Moving up to the U20 age group, and now taking on 10 disciplines in the decathlon, he continued to improve across the board and earned silver medals in the decathlon and 400m at the 2015 European U20 Championships in Eskilstuna – despite the 400m final taking place in the middle of the decathlon.

Throughout that season he broke national U20 records in a range of events indoors and outdoors, from the 200m and sprint hurdles to the long jump and decathlon.

His indoor 400m best of 47.25, meanwhile, was a national senior indoor record.

But in 2016, his first year as a senior athlete, Warholm decided that decathlon’s 10 disciplines were not quite enough, so he took on another challenge: the 400m hurdles – a discipline that some refer to as the ‘man killer’ event.

He had dabbled with it as a teenager, but 2016 was the first season in which the 400m hurdles was his main focus. The early signs were promising; in his first race of the season, he broke the national record with 49.62.

By the end of that year, he had reached the European final, made it to the Olympic semifinals, and reduced his best to 48.49. He had finally found his calling.

When he opened his 2017 campaign, it was clear Warholm was going to be a force that season. He clocked a national record of 48.25 to win at the Diamond League meeting in Oslo on home soil, beating Olympic champion Kerron Clement and Olympic bronze medallist Yasmani Copello in the process.

His winning streak continued at the Diamond League meeting in Stockholm and the European U23 Championships in Bydgoszcz.

By the time he arrived at the World Championships in London, he was very much considered a medal contender. Despite being the youngest in the field, and with heavy rain preventing faster times, Warholm charged to gold in 48.35.

“I truly don’t believe it,” he said afterwards, celebrating with a Viking-style hat on his head. “I’ve worked so hard for this but I don’t know what I have done. This is an amazing feeling.”

Warholm continued his habit of strong season openers in 2018, setting a huge lifetime best of 47.82 in Rome. This time, however, he had to settle for second place behind Qatar’s Abderraman Samba, who became the event’s dominant force that year.

While Samba won all six of their clashes in 2018, Warholm enjoyed a moment of glory at the European Championships in Berlin, winning with a national record of 47.64.

The Warholm-Samba rivalry continued in 2019, only this time with a third challenger in the form of USA’s Rai Benjamin. Winner of the NCAA title in 2018 in 47.02, Benjamin embarked on his first full professional season in 2019 and regularly lined up against Warholm and Samba on the international circuit.

Warholm, however, came out on top each time, winning all of his competitions – indoors, outdoors, on the flat and over hurdles. He broke the European record on three occasions, clocking 47.33 in Oslo, 47.12 in London and 46.92 in Zurich, moving to the No.2 spot on the world all-time list.

The men’s 400m hurdles was one of the most anticipated events of the World Championships in Doha, and Warholm duly delivered, winning gold in 47.42 with Benjamin and Samba taking silver and bronze respectively.

“It’s easy to say afterwards that this was going to happen but I wasn’t too sure, to be honest,” Warholm said. “This was a very hard race. I had a pain in my chest, I thought I was going to die but here I am world champion.”

The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games meant that Warholm’s Olympic dream was put on hold, but he was determined not to waste all of the hard work he had put in for the 2020 season.

He opened his season on home soil at Oslo’s ‘Impossible Games’ and sped to a world 300m hurdles best of 33.78. Then, a couple of months later, he ran 46.87 for the 400m hurdles – just 0.09 shy of Kevin Young’s 1992 world record ­– at the Diamond League meeting in Stockholm. There he also won the 400m flat in 45.05 to complete the best ever one-day 400m flat-hurdles double.

After a winter which he described as his best-ever when it comes to training, Warholm gave a hint of things to come when he ran yet another world 300m hurdles best on his 2021 season debut – this time clocking 33.26 to take half a second off the mark he had achieved the year before.

Then, with Rai Benjamin’s 46.83 at the US Olympic Trials which moved Warholm from second to third on the world all-time list fresh in the memory, the Norwegian took to the track in front of a home crowd of 5000 at the Bislett Games in Oslo. Storming around the track, he crossed the finish line with arms spread wide and a time of 46.70 on the clock to shave 0.08 from Young’s world record.

“This is the moment that everybody has been talking about,” he said after his record-breaking run. “It’s a legendary record and of course in this moment I feel like it’s important to give a shout out to Kevin Young, who was a guy ahead of his time. It’s very cool to be able to take the record.”


Warholm’s 400m hurdles progression
52.20 Haugesund, 6 Sep 2014
51.09 Haugesund, 31 Jul 2015
49.62 Floro, 4 Jun 2016
49.45 Gothenburg, 1 Jul 2016
48.84 Amsterdam, 7 Jul 2016
48.49 Rio, 15 Aug 2016
48.25 Oslo, 15 Jun 2017
48.22 Zurich, 24 Aug 2017
47.82 Rome, 31 May 2018
47.81 Stockholm, 10 Jun 2018
47.65 London, 21 Jul 2018
47.64 Berlin, 9 Aug 2018
47.33 Oslo, 13 Jun 2019
47.12 London, 20 Jul 2019
46.92 Zurich, 29 Aug 2019
46.87 Stockholm, 23 Aug 2020
46.70 Oslo, 1 Jul 2021

Warholm’s PBs
60m: 6.75
100m: 10.52 / 10.49i
200m: 20.91i
400m: 44.87 / 45.05i
110m hurdles: 14.30
300m hurdles: 33.26
400m hurdles: 46.70
High jump: 2.05m
Long jump: 7.66m
Decathlon: 7764 (U20)

400m hurdles world all-time list
46.70 Karsten Warholm (NOR) Oslo 2021
46.78 Kevin Young (USA) Barcelona 1992
46.83 Rai Benjamin (USA) Eugene 2021
46.98 Abderrahman Samba (QAT) Paris 2018
47.02 Ed Moses (USA) Koblenz 1983
47.03 Bryan Bronson (USA) New Orleans 1998
47.10 Samuel Matete (ZAM) Zurich 1991
47.19 Andre Phillips (USA) Seoul 1988
47.23 Amadou Dia Ba (SEN) Seoul 1988
47.24 Kerron Clement (USA) Carson 2005

400m hurdles world record progression
49.5h Glenn Davis (USA) Los Angeles 1956
49.2h Glenn Davis (USA) Budapest 1958
49.2h Salvatore Morale (ITA) Belgrade 1962
49.1h Rex Cawley (USA) Los Angeles 1964
48.8h Geoff Vanderstock (USA) Echo Summit 1968
48.1h David Hemery (GBR) Mexico City 1968
47.8h John Akii-Bua (UGA) Munich 1972
47.64 Ed Moses (USA) Montreal 1976
47.45 Ed Moses (USA) Westwood 1977
47.13 Ed Moses (USA) Milan 1980
47.02 Ed Moses (USA) Koblenz 1983
46.78 Kevin Young (USA) Barcelona 1992
46.70 Karsten Warholm (NOR) Oslo 2021

*Subject to the usual ratification procedure