Karsten Warholm leads the field over the final barrier in the men's 400m hurdles final at the IAAF World Championships London 2017
The shocked look on Karsten Warholm’s face as he crossed the finish line said it all.
The 21-year-old Norwegian had, in only his second full season as a 400m hurdler, not only won the IAAF World Championships, but defeated the Olympic champion Kerron Clement and the bronze medallist from Rio, Yasmani Copello.
And he had done so in style, producing one of the most memorable and energetic performances of the championships.
Warholm knows only one way of running: as fast as possible from the gun. It was a tactic he employed in both the heat and the semifinal and on both of those occasions he was found wanting in the closing stages, having finished second in each race, first to Juander Santos of the Dominican Republic and then to Clement.
So it was a brave move then, to blast from the blocks in the final, but the European U23 champion did just that, rising for the first hurdle well before any of the other competitors.
By 100 metres he had already made up the stagger on Qatar’s Abderrahaman Samba, who had looked so impressive in winning his own semifinal on Monday, and he even stuttered into hurdle five, the speed at which he was moving taking him too close to the upright.
Entering the home straight, Warholm had a three-metre lead, but the ominous trio of Clement, Copello and Samba loomed and looked to be gaining ground, a repeat of previous rounds the likely outcome.
Yet with his legs turning over more furiously than any of the rest, particularly Clement, who’s relaxed stride was in stark contrast, the Norwegian wouldn’t be caught.
Clement looked to be the most likely to ease past, but a poor approach to hurdle nine ended his chances of victory, while Samba lost all momentum off hurdle 10 and faded badly.
It was Turkey’s Copello who, as in the previous round, looked most relaxed into the finish, but he could still only manage 48.49 to Warholm’s 48.35. Clement, who had looked to have timed his season to perfection following a slow start to the year, took the bronze in 48.52, with less than 0.2 separating the medallists in an event where all eight of the finalists were evenly matched on 2017 form.
Warholm, just four years ago the world U18 octathlon champion, found himself on his knees, gulping the London air, running his hands through his hair and shaking his head in stunned disbelief, before donning a plastic Viking hat for a lap of honour.
“Thank you, London! I truly don't believe it,” he shouted to a receptive crowd. “I've worked so hard for this but I don't know what I have done. This is an amazing feeling.”
“I'm world champion, that's crazy. A lot of hard work and dedication has got me here so thank you to my coach for getting me in a position to challenge for a world title.”
The 31-year-old Clement, champion in 2007 and 2009 acknowledged the moment where his own challenge ended and also paid tribute to the new champion.
“I kind of had a mishap as on the last hurdle I switched legs and that shouldn't have happened. I felt I could have started quicker but a medal is a medal.”
“He (Warholm) is a talent and showed that today. I'm happy with bronze. I can't complain about a world medal.”
“My legs just weren't there off the last hurdle and that cost me the gold. You can see I came off it pretty badly. On another day I would have won but I'm happy to add another medal.”
Copello, too, was pleased with his night’s work, despite the extreme conditions that saw rain bouncing off the track.
“Right now I'm so happy,” he explained. “To win a World Championships medal is my dream. My coach just told me to relax and now I have a medal, I'm so happy. It's been an incredible experience.”
Dean Hardman for the IAAF