TOKYO (AP) – When the fiery Norwegian hurdler Karsten Warholm led the field to the start line on a scorching afternoon at the Olympic Stadium, he and his seven opponents had every reason to expect that ‘they are part of something special.
It turned out to be more than that.
This gathering of the world’s best runners in the 400-meter hurdles produced a gold medal for Warholm on Tuesday, a world record, a masterpiece and a slice of history. It was also perhaps one of the best races ever.
“I never thought in my wildest imagination that this would be possible,” said Warholm after breaking his own world record in 45.94 seconds.
In deciding where the race stands in the annals of Olympic history, there is a lot to consider:
– The man who finished behind Warholm, Rai Benjamin, ran more than half a second faster than any other hurdler in history: 46.17. If anyone had dared to tell him he would run that fast and finish second, Benjamin said, “I would probably beat you up and tell you to get out of my room.”
“Third, Alison dos Santos of Brazil, finished in 46.72, which would have been a world record five weeks earlier.
– The man who finished seventh in the eight-man peloton, Rasmus Magi of Estonia, was barely in the picture taken behind the finish line. But he was one of six to set a world, continental or national record.
“It’s a lot to deal with,” Benjamin said.
Warholm’s victory in front of an empty stadium – one day thousands could brag about being there – eclipsed his month-old world record of 0.76 seconds.
By comparison, in dish 400, it took 48 years for the record to drop by a comparable amount – 0.85 seconds between 1968 (Butch Reynolds) and 2016 (Wayde van Niekerk).
Van Niekerk’s world record in the 400 is 43.03. It’s only 2.91 times faster than what Warholm did with 10 ladder obstacles.
Hard to believe, even for the athletes watching it unfold in front of them.
“After the second hurdle. I was like, s—-. If you chase them it’s suicidal, ”said Kyron McMaster, fourth, whose time of 47.08 would have won the last six Olympics.
As of June 30, 2021, the 400-meter hurdles record stood at 46.78. It was established by American Kevin Young at the Barcelona Games in 1992.
On July 1, Warholm brought it down to 46.7, which either sounded like a cheeky retort to Benjamin or a sign of things to come.
Just a week before that, at the US Olympic Trials, Benjamin had run 46.83 to become the fourth man to crack 47. After the race, he announced that he felt he had a “46 bottom” in him somewhere. leaves, maybe in Tokyo.
This back-and-forth set the stage for Tuesday and a showdown between rivals that took the event to a new high since the 1980s. In a decade of domination, Edwin Moses has won 107 consecutive finals, two Olympic gold medals and lowered the world record four times.
One thing Moses did not have was a rival, which he explained earlier this week might have kept him from dropping lower than the 47.02 that was the record for nearly nine. years before Young.
Warholm and Benjamin are rivals. During the pre-race presentations, they both banged their chests like boxers, and Warholm slapped each other on several occasions.
They headed for their respective lanes, put down their starting blocks, sank their heels, lined up and took off.
No one was going to catch them. Specifically, no one was going to catch Warholm.
Coming out of lane 6, he caught up with the guys who were starting in front of him after three hurdles and was clearly in the lead at the halfway point.
Covering the distance between the barriers 13 mighty steps at a time, Warholm never failed to break his stride. At the eighth hurdle, Benjamin was about a body length behind and seemed to come closer. But in the home stretch, Warholm pulled away. He accelerated to the finish with his arms in the air.
As his time was displayed on the scoreboard, he tore his jersey. “Pure emotions coming out.” It was a scene reminiscent of when he made his mark on the world stage with his victory at the world championships in London in 2017, with a post-race celebration wearing a wide-eyed Viking helmet.
That moment, however, was set in 2018, when Qatari Abderrahman Samba became the second man to cross 47 seconds, a barrier Warholm had yet to reach.
“I decided I didn’t like to lose,” Warholm said. “So I came back and trained really hard. “
Samba was also in this final. He was fifth in 47.12 – a better season for him, but he was one of only two hurdlers not to break a national record.
Warholm not only broke the world record, he fell below the 46-second mark that no one had seriously thought about.
“Sometimes in training my coaches keep telling me that it might be possible,” said Warholm. “But it was hard to imagine it because it’s a big obstacle.”
A swirling debate inside runway circles is how much credit new shoe technology should get. A combination of foam and carbon plates gave runners more spring in their stride and may have played into the sudden drop in records.
“Of course, the technology will always be there,” Warholm said. “But I also want to keep it at a level where we can actually compare the results.”
Either way, someone has to run in these shoes, and these men are some of the best at crampons.
Did they deliver the best race ever? Did they produce a moment that would put them on par with Billy Mills (1964), or Seb Coe and Steve Ovett (’80), or Flo Jo (’88) or Michael Johnson (’96), or Usain Bolt (pick one race)?
As the stadium’s belly still buzzed as the hurdles mingled with the media, a consensus began to form.
“I don’t think any race really compares to what we just did,” said Benjamin.
Warholm was not going to argue.
“I’ve always said there is no such thing as a perfect race,” said Warholm. “But that’s the closest I think I’ve come to a perfect race.”