Much of the talk about the men’s 400m this winter has centred on whether Karsten Warholm can become the first European to run under 45 seconds around two laps of an indoor stadium and whether he will do it at the Istanbul 2023 European Athletics Indoor Championships from 2-5 March.
Many pundits have already seemingly handed the Norwegian superstar the gold medal in Istanbul but Oscar Husillos, the reigning champion from Spain, is not prepared to quietly settle for another second place and is gearing up to give Warholm a run for his money.
“I faced him in Glasgow [at the 2019 European Athletics Indoor Championships]. He equalled the European record when he won there, and I got the silver in a Spanish record. Then he went on to have that wonderful summer in 2019 when he won everything, he was unbeaten. However, since Glasgow we haven’t faced each other.
"But I’ve known for about three days, since I saw the news about the Norwegian team going to Istanbul, that he was going to go to these championships and that inspires me," commented the 29-year-old Husillos last week, after winning at the World Athletics Indoor Tour meeting in Madrid.
“The truth is that I am delighted that Karsten will be in Istanbul and I’ll be able to compete against him; and hopefully come out on top in the end. However, whatever happens, I will do my best and may the best man win. But I am determined to finish my [indoor] season in the best possible way.
Warholm has raced sparingly this winter, not surprisingly as his primary event is the 400m hurdles, but he has posted a European-leading time of 45.31 to win at his own local invitation meeting in Ulsteinvik on 2 February and then 45.51 at the World Athletics Indoor Tour meeting in Lievin, France two weeks later.
They are the two fastest 400m times by a European this winter but Husillos is not far behind having reduced his own Spanish indoor record to 45.58 at the Spanish indoor Championships earlier two weekends ago – which moved him up three places to 12th on the European indoor all-time list – and then returning to the Spanish capital and winning a classy contest in 45.84 last Wednesday.
“However, I think I can do better than these two races in Istanbul. I didn’t perform at my best at the Spanish Championships, even though I got a good time. And in here in Madrid, the most important thing was the win in front of my home crowd which alone makes me very happy,” added Husillos in the wake of the second of his back-to-back victories in the space of four days in Madrid.
“Ahead of Istanbul, I am just going to continue my preparations, which have been going as I want them to. I have a few more tests but the main thing now is to get plenty of rest… and ice baths. In fact, I might not leave my bed for a few days,” he joked.
No me despierten de este sueño por favor????— Oscar Husillos OLY (@oscarhusillos) March 7, 2021
????CAMPEÓN DE EUROPA???? pic.twitter.com/bwIFHP790J
The omens for Istanbul look good for Husillos, who hails from the northern Spanish city of Palencia.
In 2021, he won the European indoor title in the absence of Warholm a season’s best of 46.22. This year he is already running more than half-a-second quicker.
One thing he has to think about though is what tactics he might use to try and beat Warholm.
When they met at Glasgow 2019, Warholm blazed through his first 200m in 21.35 en route to a European indoor record-equalling 45.05. On that occasion, Husillos was seemingly caught unawares by the super-quick start and was three metres back at the bell in an unofficial 21.6.
However, by contrast, when Husillos crossed the line first at the 2018 World Athletics Indoor Championships in what was initially shown to be the fantastic time of 44.92 before he shortly afterwards suffered the heartbreak of being disqualified for a lane infringement – which many observers thought had made little material difference to the finishing order or the finishing time despite the rules being correctly applied – he flashed through the first lap in 21.26.
It may be that pushing Warholm to the limit with a blisteringly fast first lap and then seeing what both men have left in the tank is the tactic on the table but Husillos is keeping his cards close to his chest.
However, unlike Warholm, Husillos has a second chance of glory in Istanbul as Spain are one of the six invited teams for the 4x400m relay.
‼️Récord de España???????? 4️⃣5️⃣:5️⃣8️⃣ ‼️— Oscar Husillos OLY (@oscarhusillos) February 20, 2023
Gracias de ❤️ a todos los que formáis parte de esto.
Nos volvemos a ver Gallur el miércoles en @AthleticsTourES#adizero #impossibleisnothing #Creadoconadidas #400 #adizeroprimeSP2 #NationalRecord
????: @sportmedia_es pic.twitter.com/EZsS526T4n
With three men in the top ten European 400m exponents this winter, Spain will start as favourites for the title on paper. However, Husillos knows that Belgium have a habit of raising their game when relay titles are at stake and their men have a baton in their hand while the Netherlands, reigning champions and Olympic silver medallists, will also be looking to retain their title.
Spain finished behind Belgium at both the 2019 European Athletics Indoor Championships and the 2022 World Athletics Indoor Championships, although Husillos was not part of the latter team having had to miss those championships through injury.
“Over the years we have developed a great spirit and this time we have a great team, we are great teammates and we intend to fight for everything, both this winter in Istanbul and then outdoors [at the World Athletics Championships] inn Budapest,
“What we need to see is the best Iñaki [Canal, who has run a personal best of 45.89 this winter], the best Manu [Guijarro, who has run 46.07 this winter] and the best Oscar [Husillos].
“But this is a team that will fight for everything and can compete against Belgium, and we can also count on Lucas Bua as well,” added Husillos.
If Husillos can’t find a way past Warholm on Saturday night, it is certainly possible he will still get to stand on top of the medal podium in Istanbul less than 24 hours later.
Phil Minshull for European Athletics