Karsten Warholm at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 (© Getty Images)
The Norwegians in the crowd at the National Athletics Centre on the north bank of the Danube were still recovering from the reverberation of Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s 1500m defeat when the country’s other clear gold medal favourite took his place on the start line for the men’s 400m hurdles final at the end of a dramatic sixth day of the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23.
Surely lightning was not going to strike down a Norwegian golden boy for a second time.
Just like his compatriot, Karsten Warholm had been untouchable in the run up to the big event of the year, clocking a world-leading 46.51 at the Monaco Diamond League meeting – the second fastest time of his career behind the stunning 45.94 world record that won him Olympic gold in Tokyo.
“Surely there is going to be somebody who challenges me,” he pondered after coasting to victory in his semifinal.
Perhaps even the very best in the athletics business should be careful what they wish for. When the gun fired, that somebody stepped up in the shape of Rai Benjamin.
Warholm routinely attacks his event as if he is going to war with it. This time the Viking warrior of track and field set off with unaccustomed restraint.
It was Benjamin, the silver medal winner in Tokyo and in the previous two World Championships, and the second-fastest one-lap hurdler in history, who set off like a man possessed – closely followed by two-time Diamond League final winner Kyron McMaster of the British Virgin Islands and Roshawn Clarke, the 19-year-old Jamaican who set a world U20 record in the semifinals.
It took Warholm until halfway to generate some serious momentum. Steadily, around the curve, he worked his way through to the front, though Benjamin was still within striking distance as they came off the bend.
The US challenger – son of the West Indies cricketer Winston Benjamin – tried to close the gap but Warholm gritted his teeth, dug deep and pulled decisively clear, crossing the line in 46.84, with McMaster coming through to take the silver in 47.38 and Benjamin the bronze in 47.56.
Clarke came next, fourth in 48.07, and then defending champion Alison dos Santos, the Brazilian placing a creditable fifth in 48.10 on the comeback trail following knee surgery.
Seventh in Oregon last year after an early-season hamstring tear, Warholm himself is still putting the pieces back in place. As a Legomaniac, he has built the famous Disney Castle. In his day job, he remains the king of the global castle.
Indeed, the former multi-eventer is now the first male 400m hurdler to claim the World Championships crown for a third time. The great Ed Moses only managed two, as did Felix Sanchez and Kerron McClement.
“I feel like the gold medal is back where it belongs,” Warholm said. “It's an amazing feeling.
“It was the perfect run for me. I was able to keep my form in the first 250m and I know that the guys were running their asses off and would be very tired. It was just left for me to turn on the turbos over the last 100m and the race was mine.
“They went out super hard but I knew they were going to get it tough in the end. I knew I would have the most left on the home stretch.
“Every gold medal means a lot to me but this one is a bit extra special because I lost it last year. I had an injury and a tough season, so it's a good little comeback story. I learned a lot from that too. I love racing, I put everything in my life into this and having an injury is tough but it also motivated me to come back and get the gold back again.
“It feels a bit sweeter this year. You have to fight and I have a fighting spirit in these moments. It gets the best out of me. I'm still hungry for more and more. You need to have that to chase the gold medals.”
McMaster was rightly overjoyed with his silver.
“I fulfilled a part of my dream tonight,” he said. “First thing was to get a medal. Second step was to take one of the big three. I got second today, so Warholm is still the target. But he knows that.
“This means the world to my country. I have been chasing this medal since 2017. Yesterday was my mum's birthday, so she got a silver medal for that. Now she has a son who is a World Championships silver medallist.”
And Winston Benjamin has a son who has a bronze to set alongside his silvers.
“I am proud of myself but I just wanted more,” said Rai. “I want to prove I have it in me.
“It has been a very tough season, dealing with a quadriceps injury, a lot of changes, a lot of distractions. I lost a close friend of mine. It was just tough. I try not to make any excuses, I try to come out and do my best. I am very satisfied with the first half of the race. I just cannot put the pieces together in the last half.
“I just did not have it. I just need to be better. I just do not know what happened today.”
What happened was that Warholm held his nerve, drew on his Viking spirit and ended up becoming the second Scandinavian Lego-nerd to win a world title in Budapest.
Stefan Holm, the little big man of the high jump, secured his fourth world indoor crown here in the Hungarian capital in 2004. The Swede subsequently wrote a book about his lifetime love of Lego building: Svenska sportbitar, byggt ocht berattat av Stefan Holm (Swedish sports bits, built and told by Stefan Holm).
He recreated 21 of the most iconic moments in Swedish sporting history – including Anders Garderud’s 1976 Olympic 3000m steeplechase victory, Bjorn Borg’s epic 1980 Wimbledon tennis victory against John McEnroe and Carolina Kluft’s 2003 world heptathlon triumph.
Maybe Warholm could create a Norwegian version when he eventually stops going to war with the 400m hurdles.
Simon Turnbull for World Athletics
|MEN'S 400m HURDLES MEDALLISTS
|Karsten Warholm 🇳🇴 NOR
|Kyron McMaster 🇻🇬 IVB
|Rai Benjamin 🇺🇸 USA
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