Norway's Karsten Warholm competes in the men's 400m hurdles heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo by Jewel Samad /AFP
Norway's Karsten Warholm competes in the men's 400m hurdles heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo by Jewel Samad /AFP

Karsten Warholm loves it at the top and wants to stay there

By Matshelane Mamabolo Time of article published Aug 1, 2021

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JOHANNESBURG - SO MUCH for it being lonely at the top! Karsten Warlholm wouldn’t have it any other way. And he is fully intent on keeping things just as they are.

The 25-year-old Norwegian is the world’s top-ranked athlete at the Tokyo Olympic Games, the 400m hurdler having usurped pole-vaulter Armand Duplantis at the summit at the beginning of July.

“I’ve got to give a shout out to Mondo (Duplantis) who held that place for a long time,” Warlholm says during a virtual media conference organised by sporting apparel Puma for the launch of their new spikes, Faster+, which Warlholm, Duplantis (present in the conference) and a few other top class athletes will be wearing in Tokyo.

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“Me and him (sic) are going to fight for it (the top spot). It was a very huge moment for me to go to number one and I am very happy that Mondo wanted to share the place with me. It (being world number one) is something we have worked very, very hard to reach and it explains the level we are at. We are in the place we want to be - on the top and we like it there even if it is lonely. It is a great place,” he laughs.

That he is the world’s top ranked athlete is thanks to his incredible run during the Oslo Diamond League meeting on July 1 at which he smashed the long-standing record of American Kevin Young.

Warholm produced a faultless run to clock 46:70 and thus broke the 46:78 that Young ran at the Barcelona Olympics back in 1992.

“It felt amazing breaking the record and of course extra special to have been able to do it here on my home track in Oslo. It’s a special feeling. It is a record everyone has been speaking about for so many years and yes I felt pressure (to break it). And now it is a feeling off my shoulders and we are ready for Tokyo.”

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Ready to add Olympic gold to the two World Championships one he won in Doha 2019 and London 2017 no doubt. After all, such a great showing just a month before his event at the Games should surely make Warholm a dead-cert for gold on August 3.

Of course his rival Rai Benjamin will not let him have it all his way, the American who won silver in Qatar having run a 46:83 in June for what was then the second fastest time in history before Warholm’s world record. And then there’s also Qatar’s Abderrahmane Samba, the World Championships bronze medallist who has also previously ran inside the 47 seconds. Add the likes of Alispn Dos Santos and Kyron McCMaster to the mix and it makes for a must watch event.

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Not that Warholm was thinking of the competition as he anticipated the trip to Tokyo.

“The Olympic Games are something we have been waiting for a really long time for. We were preparing for them to happen last year (2020) but they had to be moved because of Covid-19. Now we’ve been waiting for this year. But on the positive side, we have been able to put in great amount of work. I am now at the best level I’ve ever been. I feel that this is a great way to go to Tokyo.”

Like most athletes, Warholm’s preparations have been somewhat hampered by the pandemic which has forced him to remain in cold Norway when setting up camp in hot and humid conditions would have been the way to go.

“We know Tokyo is going to be very hot. So to get ready, we installed a Jacuzzi in coach Leif’s (Olav Alnes) garden and we heated it up to 40 degrees. I think we were spending three to four hours each week in the Jacuzzi. It’s a nice way to get used to the heat we will be facing in Tokyo,” he chuckles before adding “At the same time at the Top Sports Centre in Norway they have installed this room where you can adjust the heat and humidity and everything. You can simulate the exact conditions we are going to meet in Tokyo and we have the week before we go to Tokyo to use it.”

Not that he’d be new to those sticky hot conditions.

“Also I had the experience of similar conditions in Doha during the 2019 World Championships and it was nice to see how we handle these things because it was very hot and humid,” he says of the event at which he held on to his world title from London in 2017.

Such has been Warholm’s success in the hurdles, you’d think he has always specialised in the event. But in his younger years, the lad who was born in the town of Ulsteinvink on an island jutting into the sea on Norway’s western coast actually participated in the multi-events disciplines, octathlon and decathlon.

“The 400m hurdles is an event that combines the things that are appealing to me. Before the hurdles I was doing the decathlon. What I liked about decathlon is that there was always something to work with. But once I started hurdles, I realised that it is somehow the same thing. There is always stuff you can perfect – especially the technical aspects - with the hurdling.

“People think it is about how nice you look over the hurdle but it is not about that. It is about not losing speed; it’s also about maintaining the speed over the hurdle and getting the rhythm. I like the mix of the speed and there’s also the fatigue you have to fight at the end. You also need to get over the hurdle and still maintain your stride and your nice flow. That’s what I like about hurdles, there’s so much you can work with to perfect your game.”

And Warholm is one of the athletes who will be using the new Puma Evospeed Tokyo Future Faster+ Track and Field spikes which were designed in conjunction with Mercedez AMG Petronas F1. South African athletes who will be uising the spokes are Wenda Nel (a 400m hurdler like Warholm), long jumper Ruswahl Samaai and 200m sprinter Clarence Munyai.

Warholm was highly influential in the design of the spikes and actually wore them when he set the new world record.

“I wore the new spikes for the record yes and I feel this shoe is really helping me to perform at my highest level. I’ve been working with Puma and Mercedes to design it and it has been a very long journey.”

Warholm expresses delight at Puma having lived up to their word to him when he first joined them.

“I heard that Puma were collaborating with Mercedes on different things. So I called the CEO Bjorn Gulden who’s also from Norway and spoke to him in my language and said I want Puma to do a collaboration that will benefit us track and field athletes and he said to me yes and promised that I’d have the best spike and the world record. And he was right,” the holder of Norway’s 400m flat record chuckles.

The carbon plate on the spikes is very light and thus good for sprinting because ‘it gives instant feedback’.

“What is fantastic about the shoe is that it actually helps you maintain energy while at the same time giving you the support when you start to get tired towards the end of the race. The carbon under the shoe also helps you with propulsion over the hurdles. We’ve been pushing Puma for a long time to get the athletes the best possible products for athletes and they have delivered.”

He remembers fondly his initial discussion with his coach about the idea of a better shoe.

“The first time we spoke about this, Leif said to me ‘Karsten you need to lose some weight’ and I said to him ‘Damn I’m training all day, I don’t need to lose weight. You are the one who needs to lose weight’. And he said to me ‘no, I am talking about the shoe’. And I’m like ‘oh, the shoe coach, the shoe’,” he laughs.

And they definitely lost the weight.

“In running you don’t think much about the weight of the shoe. But towards the end of the race, when you are tiring, you can feel that you have some weight on you.”

Alnes chips in: “With track and field the shoe needs to help you. It’s almost like running barefoot but with the support that helps push you in the right direction. It is not a shoe but a work of art because it is so simplistic and still so enormously high tech. Yet it does not destroy the integrity of the sport because it is made in a way that it does not have any hidden things. It is very thin, very light and very quick.”

Definitely quick, the kind of world record light and quick as shown by Warholm during his epoch Diamond League run on July 1.

While he would love nothing more than to add the Olympic gold medal to the his lofty standing as a two-time world champion, world record holder as well as world number one athlete, Warholm is also delighted at being a part of these special Games.

“It is going to a weird competition with no people in the stadium because of Corona. But it is going to be special Games, one for the history books. We are going to look back and it will be great for us because we are going to be proud to have been a part of it.”

@Tshiliboy

IOL Sport

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