It began with a slap of the chest, a pump of the fist, and a roar to the camera, as all of his races do, but it ended like none other.
Karsten Warholm’s face changed to a mixture of exhaustion, elation, and disbelief as he crossed the finish line of the men’s Olympic 400-meter hurdles final and registered the numbers on the stadium clock.
The Norwegian’s time of 45.94 seconds in Tokyo on Tuesday is likely to change perceptions of what is possible in this event, as he beat Rai Benjamin of the United States and set a new world record by more than half a second.
This was the Olympic final that the men’s 400m hurdles deserved in a golden era for the event. Benjamin’s silver-medal time of 46.17 seconds would have easily beaten Warholm’s previous record of 46.72 seconds set in July, while Alison Dos Santos of Brazil’s bronze-medal time of 46.72 was just outside it.
“That was the best race in Olympic history … everyone in this event should be getting paid big bucks, in all honesty,” Benjamin later quipped.
Warholm, who has been a frontrunner in this event since winning the world championship in 2017, now has an Olympic medal to show for his efforts. After the final hurdle, he edged out Benjamin and ripped a huge hole in the middle of his sprint suit as he crossed the finish line.
“The lactic acid is just crazy, I couldn’t feel my legs,” Warholm told reporters about the end of the race.
“I was just running over the line because I didn’t take anything for granted today. All respect to Rai for running 46.17 — that’s just crazy.”
Warholm quickly caught up to Dos Santos and Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba in the lanes outside him, running in lane six.
By the 200-meter mark, he was in the lead, but the race was far from over as Benjamin gradually gained ground in the adjacent inside lane.
“I ran sort of scared, but that’s something that I always do,” Warholm added. “I knew that with my fast opening, I was up on the side of dos Santos and Samba really early in the race.
“That was my tactic today, I think I won on tactics. I really went out hard and tried to get the guys with me … after that I just ran for my life. I would have died for that gold medal.”
At the final hurdle, the two were virtually tied, but Warholm summoned an extra ounce of energy to win the gold.
Kevin Young’s 1992 Olympic 400m hurdles world record had stood for nearly three decades before Warholm broke it a month ago, a feat the 25-year-old has compared to the race to put a man on the moon.