Greatest race ever? Warholm wins record-breaking hurdles race

TOKYO (AP) – When the cheeky Norwegian hurdler Karsten Warholm led the field in the Olympic Stadium on a hot afternoon, he and his seven opponents had every reason to expect to be part of something special.

It turned out to be more.

This meeting of the world’s best 400-meter hurdlers on Tuesday brought Warholm a gold medal, a world record, a masterpiece and a piece of history. It could also have been one of the best races ever run.

“I never imagined in my wildest imagination that this would be possible,” said Warholm after breaking his own world record in 45.94 seconds.

There are many things to consider when deciding where the race is in the annals of Olympic history:

—The man who finished behind Warholm, Rai Benjamin, ran more than half a second faster than any other hurdler in history: 46.17. If someone had dared to tell him that he would run that fast and finish second, Benjamin said, “I would probably beat you up and tell you to leave my room.”

—The third-placed, Alison dos Santos from Brazil, finished 46.72, which would have been a world record five weeks earlier.

—The seventh in the field of eight, Rasmus Magi from Estonia, was barely in the frame of the photos that were taken behind the finish line. But he was one of six to set either a world, continental or national record.

“It’s a lot to process,” said Benjamin.

Warholms victory in front of an empty stadium – one day thousands could brag they were there – beat his month-old world record by 0.76 seconds.

For comparison: In the 400 class, it took 48 years for the record to drop by a comparable value – 0.85 seconds between 1968 (Butch Reynolds) and 2016 (Wayde van Niekerk).

Van Niekerk’s world record in the 400 is 43.03. That is only 2.91 faster than what Warholm did with 10 hurdles.

It’s hard to believe, even for the athletes who saw it unfold before their eyes.

“After the second hurdle. I was like, s–. Chasing them is suicidal, ”said Kyron McMaster, fourth-placed, whose time of 47.08 would have won the last six Olympics.

On June 30, 2021, the 400 meter hurdle record was 46.78. It was set by the American Kevin Young at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

On July 1, Warholm lowered it to 46.7, which felt like either a brazen reply for Benjamin or a sign of the future.

Just a week earlier, Benjamin had run 46.83 in US Olympic tests, making him the fourth man to crack 47. After the run, he announced that he felt like he had a “low 46” in him somewhere, maybe in Tokyo.

That back and forth set the stage for Tuesday and a showdown between rivals that brought this event to a climax not seen since the 1980s. Over a decade of dominance, Edwin Moses won 107 consecutive finals, two Olympic gold medals, and lowered the world record four times.

One thing Moses didn’t have was a rival that, as he explained earlier this week, might have prevented him from falling below the 47.02, which was the record nearly nine years ahead of Young.

Warholm and Benjamin are rivals. At the pre-race show, they both hit each other on the chest like boxers, and Warholm hit himself a few times in the face.

They went to their respective lanes, set up their starting blocks, dug in their heels, stood up and took off.

Nobody would catch them. In particular, no one would catch Warholm.

Running out of lane 6, after three hurdles he caught up with the guys who had started before him and was clearly in the lead at halftime.

With 13 mighty steps at a time, Warholm couldn’t break the distance between the barriers anywhere. At the eighth hurdle Benjamin was about a body length behind and seemed to be approaching. But on the home stretch, Warholm pulled away. He raced through the target, rowing his arms.

When his time flashed on the scoreboard, he tore off his jersey. “Pure emotions come out.” It was a scene reminiscent of the time when he announced himself on the world stage with his victory at the World Cup in London in 2017, complete with a grand post-race celebration in a Viking helmet.

However, that moment was initiated back in 2018 when Abderrahman Samba from Qatar was the second man to crack 47 seconds, a barrier that Warholm had not yet reached.

“I’ve decided I don’t like to lose,” said Warholm. “So I went back and trained very hard.”

Samba was in this final too. He finished fifth in 47.12 – a season best for him, but he was one of only two hurdlers who failed to break a national record.

Warholm not only broke the world record, he fell below the 46-second mark that nobody had seriously thought of.

“Sometimes my coaches keep telling me in training that this could be possible,” said Warholm. “But it was hard to imagine because it’s a big barrier.”

One debate that is raging in railroad circles is how much recognition new shoe technologies should receive. A combination of foam and carbon records gave runners more bounce and might have played in the sudden slump in records.

“Of course there will always be technology,” said Warholm. “But I also want to keep it at a level where we can actually compare the results.”

Either way, someone has to walk in these shoes, and these men are some of the best for putting on spikes.

Did you have the best race ever? Did they produce a moment that took them to the level of Billy Mills (1964) or Seb Coe and Steve Ovett (’80) or Flo Jo (’88) or Michael Johnson (’96) or Usain Bolt (pick a race)?

As the hurdlers mingled with the media, consensus began to form.

“I don’t think any race can really compare to what we’ve just done,” said Benjamin.

Warholm didn’t want to argue.

“I’ve always said that there is no such thing as the perfect race,” said Warholm. “But that’s the next thing I think I’ve come the closest to a perfect race.”


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