In the wake of regaining his European indoor 400m title in Istanbul, Karsten Warholm was congratulated by renowned British podcasters The Backstraight Boys in a mixed zone interview for setting a new personal best.
Politely, the Olympic 400m hurdles champion pointed out that his winning time of 45.35 had not bettered the mark of 45.05 – equalling the European record – he had set in earning this title in 2019.
Soon however he was grinning as it was made clear that the reference was to his 200m split – 20.84. Just a little bit crazy. But if we know anything about Warholm now it is that he never does anything by half measures – and he is always bold.
Warholm at the halfway point was a mythical figure, clear of the field, untouchable. Warholm at the same point of the track 200m later was a buckling power, with Belgium’s own 400m hurdles specialist, Julien Watrin, pushing hard for the lead.
But while Warholm may have run a loopy race – his successive 100m splits of 10.62, 10.22, 11.48 and 13.03 tell their own story – so what? He won again, with Watrin taking silver in 45.44.
As someone remarked, Warholm will never leave the sport wondering ‘What If?’ It is true for that race, and for his whole career.
Leaving no stone unturned after injury
Last year, Warholm trained through the indoor season to the point where, as he lined up for his opening race in Rabat, he and his brilliant long-time coach Leif Olav Alnes believed he could be in shape to challenge the world record of 45.94 he had set in winning gold in Tokyo 2020.
He pulled up after the first hurdle with a hamstring tear.
After this huge blow, Team Warholm re-grouped, and managed to gain substantial rewards from a season that might have been lost. Warholm faded to seventh place in defending his world title in Oregon, but went on to Munich for a successful defence of his European title in a championship record of 47.11.
Now he has both European titles in his possession – and is looking forward to an outdoor season where he will seek to earn a third world title after his victories in 2017 and 2019.
It looks likely the current champion, Brazil’s Alison Dos Santos, will not be able to defend his title having required surgery on his knee after suffering a meniscus injury while training last month.
But that still leaves the prospect of the Viking locking horns once again with the American athlete who followed him home in Doha and Tokyo, and took silver behind Dos Santos in Oregon - Rai Benjamin.
After opening his account with 45.31 in his home meeting in Ulsteinvik – which proved to be his fastest time of the season, Warholm won in Lievin in 45.51 after which he commented: “My preparation for this indoor season was a bit different. I put in more hours of work. In the gym, but also on the track. I feel good with that approach.”
Getting faster on the flat
Reflecting on how indoor running fits into his career ambitions, he said: “I think it’s impossible to be a good 400m hurdler without being able to run fast without hurdles as well. And to do that indoors is a great opportunity to see where it takes me.
“I’ve been doing some 400m outdoors without hurdles as well and it didn’t go the way I was thinking and I think that’s because they are two different ways of running and you need some experience to find the perfect way to solve it.
“I think maybe indoor running suits me well but the reason why we never ran that much before is there are risks because you break into lane one and all of a sudden everybody is together. And if you go first you never know if someone is coming behind you and is going to step on you or whatever.
“So I see indoor running as a bit more risky, therefore I think I would always choose the outdoor, but still I like to run indoors. Growing up with these types of indoor tracks in Norway I think I am quite used to it as well.
“Before covid I was always trying to do some indoor running. I grew up doing a lot of indoor races. So I’m not going to say it will become normal because next year with Paris I have to see if it works in terms of prioritising because as I say there are always risks.
“So we will see next year, but this year I wanted to compete indoors, especially as I was injured during the summer and I missed the racing part. So that’s some of the reason I am doing it right now because I didn’t feel like I got that many races last year.”
Speaking about his setback last year, he added: “I got the injury and I had six weeks to get ready for the World Championships and that’s tough because it would take you that time at least and there’s an 80 percent chance you would get a setback.
“So going to the World Championships I thought I was good enough to win it but obviously I was not. My self-confidence is sometimes too much! But after that I figured I would try to get some races in but I also realised I wouldn’t be in Tokyo shape.
“I still managed to get back from that injury quite fast I would say and then after eight or nine weeks I was back at full speed so it doesn’t set you back a long time long-term.
“So now I don’t think that holds me back at all. I’ve been training better than ever. So I don’t think it is any problem for now. But back then it was a bit annoying. But I wanted to have the European title so I was very focused on that.”
The secret to Norway's success
His performance in Istanbul was one of four gold medals won by Norway which helped them to the top of the medal table for the first time in European Athletics Indoor Championships history.
It was another reflection of a nation currently at a sporting zenith. Warholm is not surprised.
“A lot of young people in Norway have the opportunity to get into sports,” he said. “We have winter sports and good arenas for doing summer sports, artificial grass for football, indoor facilities, lots of indoor tracks for running.
“So we have a long sports history and we have coaches that can teach the young talent.
“Also it’s a bit of luck as well. There have never been so many Norwegians that have been so good at sport at the same time. If you look at how many people there are living in Norway we are probably one of best sporting nations in the world.
“We have everything we need to do sports, so the talent has places to go.”
Mike Rowbottom for European Athletics