Two-time world 400m hurdles champion being fuelled by a close run thing
After all the motivational pre-race slapping and shouting and he is in position in the starting blocks, there is a short list which Karsten Warholm runs through in his mind.
“My coach has three checkpoints – ‘be fit, be fresh and don’t f*** it up’,” grins the 24-year-old Norwegian. “Those are the things that count the most.”
Going by his showing in 2020, the two-time 400m hurdles world champion has been able to place a big tick next to all of the above. Warholm has impressed in this unusual season, from the moment he burst out of those blocks to clock a world record 33.78 for the 300m hurdles during his first outing of the year at the Impossible Games in June.
He went on to run 47.10 or quicker four times for the 400m hurdles, becoming the first athlete ever to do so in a single season, with his fastest run coming perilously close to breaking another world record – the 46.78 which Kevin Young set when winning Olympic gold back in 1992.
Perhaps Warholm – on the shortlist for International Male Athlete of the Year in the 2020 AW Awards – will instead emulate the feat in Tokyo next summer. He could barely have got closer to the American’s mark than the 46.87 performance in Stockholm which broke his own European record. There were even echoes of Young’s performance when Warholm made contact with the final barrier.
That small collision is perhaps the only moment where Warholm could mark himself down. However, he is not one to dwell on negatives.
“It’s a bit of a mix. It’s a great cocktail of emotions, I would say,” he says of the second-fastest 400m hurdles performance in history.
“I’m as close as it gets (to the record) and I need to be proud of that and keep it as a motivation. But you always want run faster and, given that it was not the perfect race, that is something I can work with towards next season.
“It’s a bit frustrating but that’s the way it is. That’s top sports – everything is frustrating because there is always something you feel you could have done better and that is what keeps you pushing.”
In an exclusive interview in the November issue of AW, Warholm reveals the mindset which has helped him to find success on the global stage and also delves into the special relationship he has formed with his aforementioned coach, Leif Olav Alnes.
Hard work has been the key, even if the wider public might not always realise that given how easy he can make hurdling look.
“It’s not!” he insists. “If you know how to do it well enough it will look really easy and I hope that’s the spot that we’re in.
“I just want to run fast. I’ve trained for it and I just want everything to be like autopilot. If you’re in shape and you’ve done the work and everything then it’s going to be good.
“The best races, you only run and you’re in your zone and you don’t have much time to think. I never count [strides] but I know how it feels, if that makes sense. I’ve done all the stride patterns both in competition and in training so I know how it feels and I know how to reset.”
Warholm’s mental powers have been vital during a season in which Covid-19 meant he could not face his main rivals. Given that no-one was pushing him to the line he had to look inwards for motivation.
“I really love the pressure because I know that’s what makes you deliver great performances,” he says. “When you run in a race without pressure, you need to do all the work yourself and I think the pressure is what creates special performances.
“I think I’m good at creating that pressure myself and I’ve put a lot of work into this. I always run with pride and I will always run with my heart but of course your miss the audience and you miss somebody else to push you all the way to the finish line but that was the way it was this year and I’m just really happy that I got to run and I was just trying to make the most out of it.”
Another athlete who knew a thing or two about pressure was Usain Bolt. Given his ebullient personality, some have mentioned Warholm as the kind of athlete who could perhaps take over from the sprinting great as a figurehead for the sport.
“There will never a new Usain Bolt,” says Warholm. “Usain Bolt set the standard that is crazy and it’s footsteps that I don’t want to even try to follow in but maybe I can create my own name and other athletes can, too.
“Usain built a legacy and we need to show now that we can carry the sport as well. I think there is amazing talent in athletics right now.
“I’m not afraid of the future and I think we can welcome it with great positivity.”
» See the November issue of AW for an extensive interview with Karsten Warholm