AW promotion: A look back on Rai Benjamin’s thrilling Olympic story

Mount Vernon, New York native and sprinter/hurdler Rai Benjamin was one of the pleasant surprises at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

The games, of course, were initially scheduled to take place in the summer of 2020. But they were postponed a year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but the decision was made to to keep the Tokyo 2020 title.

The United States won 113 total medals, tops among all nations: 39 golds, 41 silver and 33 bronze. Benjamin, of course, was one of the 39 gold medal winners for the U.S.

The team of Benjamin, Michael Norman, Bryce Deadmon and Michael Cherry finished tops in the men’s 4x400m relay. In the 400m hurdles, Benjamin picked up a silver medal. Karsten Warholm of Norway finished atop the podium, and Brazil’s Alison dos Santos claimed the bronze medal.

It’s fitting that Warholm and Benjamin finished first and second in the race, respectively. Warholm entered the race with the highest odds of winning, and Benjamin was No.2. New York legal betting sites for the season are now live, with several major sportsbooks having launched in the state last month.

Karsten Warholm (left) and Rai Benjamin (Getty)

Though Benjamin fell just short of coming away with two gold medals, the 24-year-old took joy in having the opportunity to compete in what he called “the best race in Olympic history”, according to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times.

“I was just cherishing the moment,” Benjamin said after the games, via Nancy Haggerty of The Journal News. “There’s not a lot of people who get on the stage and get to perform on the stage. To walk away with two medals is definitely nice.”

Benjamin also had great respect for Warholm, calling him “amazing”, after his heartbreaking loss, per Klein. 

“It just goes to show where we are in the sport,” Benjamin said after the race, via Klein, “and where the event is going.”

The 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, France are still over two years away, and Benjamin will likely be a participant in those games.

Benjamin has already reached the career mountaintop once. But following a heartbreaking loss to Warholm in the 400m hurdles, you know he has his eyes set on more Olympic gold.

Benjamin’s journey to the Olympics

To say that the athletic genetics run in the Benjamin family would be a massive understatement.

Rai’s father, Winston Benjamin, was a professional cricket player who played for the West Indies team. Winston played at several international events and moved into a coaching career following his retirement.

Those ultra-athletic genes were passed down to the younger Benjamin, who is now one of the top young phenom athletes in the world.

Benjamin put the sprinting and hurdling world on notice when he was only 17 years of age back in 2015.

That year, Benjamin claimed first place in the New Balance Nationals Outdoor 400m race. He was also victorious in the New Balance Nationals Outdoor 400m hurdling race.

The pride of Mount Vernon would enjoy collegiate success at two prominent universities: UCLA and USC. He went on to win three gold medals at the NCAA Division 1 Outdoor Track and Field Championships as a member of USC.

At the 2019 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Benjamin picked up another gold medal by winning the 400m hurdles (47.23), barely finishing ahead of T.J. Holmes (48.56).

Further cementing himself as one of the best in the world, Benjamin won a gold in the 4x400m relay at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar. In the 400m hurdles race, Benjamin fell just short of another gold medal, losing to none other than Warholm.

Two years later, Benjamin would claim one more gold medal — another in the 400m hurdles — at the U.S. Olympic trials event in Eugene, Oregon. 

Fast forward to 2022, and Benjamin is half a year removed from Olympic glory. The competitor in him isn’t fully satisfied with the one olympic gold medal when he was oh-so-close to winning two, but the 2020 Tokyo Games were just the beginning.

Benjamin has plenty more races ahead as he tries to get himself ready for the second Olympic games of what has been a brilliant career up to this point.