Alison dos Santos wins the 400m hurdles at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 (© Getty Images)
It had been one of the most anticipated races of the year: a rematch of the Olympic men’s 400m hurdles final between Karsten Warholm and Rai Benjamin.
Could they possibly live up to the epic Tokyo final, in which both men finished inside the world record and the Norwegian took the gold in a staggering 45.94 ahead of the American in 46.17.
Brazil’s Alison dos Santos upended the script on Tuesday night (19), surging to the front on the final bend and pulling away to the gold in a championship record of 46.29 at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22.
Not that the victory itself was particularly a surprise; the 22-year-old Dos Santos had been the best performer all year and he proved it on this night. He claimed his first world title and became the first South American to win a medal in this event at the World Championships.
And he did it by running the third-fastest time in history and setting a Brazilian, South American and US all-comers’ record.
“I am so happy. The energy of the crowd was amazing,” Dos Santos said. “I felt their love, people hugging me. When you win, you start being everyone's favourite.”
Benjamin, whose season had been disrupted by a bout of Covid-19 and tendonitis in his upper hamstring, took global silver for a third time, clocking 46.89. US teammate Trevor Bassitt out-leaned Wilfried Happio of France to grab the bronze in a personal best of 47.39.
Happio’s fourth place time of 47.41 was faster than Warholm’s wining time in Doha in 2019, and would have been enough to win 14 of the past 17 world titles.
For two-time defending champion Warholm, it was a humbling night. Having only recently returned to action after tearing a hamstring in early June, the Norwegian stumbled at the eighth hurdle and faded to seventh place in 48.42, covering his face in his hands in dejection after crossing the line.
Warholm hadn’t finished a final in more than 10 months, and this was the first time he lost a race that he completed since the 2018 Continental Cup.
“It was a very tough race,” Warholm said. “I had an injury but to me it's always your fight and giving your all and leaving it all on the track. I felt I did that. I hope looking back I'll feel proud of that, even though I prefer to take a medal.
“I did a lot of hard work to get back to the championships but it wasn't enough,” he added. “These guys do the same as me. They train every day and fight hard. I have huge respect for them. I will always give them a fight which is what I live for. Today is their day and I hope they enjoy it.”
Dos Santos had finished third behind Warholm and Benjamin in Tokyo, but he came into these championships undefeated this year and having posted a world-leading 46.80 in Stockholm. He also defeated Benjamin in Doha in May.
On this night, Dos Santos maintained his smooth stride and technique throughout the race. He was even with Warholm through the halfway mark, then pulled away in imperious style over the final stretch.
“That's pretty awesome to win the world title on this track,” Dos Santos said. “I didn't care about the time because this is the first time I won a world title. I think I can run faster. I don't think you will have a perfect race. I'll always look for ways to improve.”
Benjamin tried to keep pace with Dos Santos on the final straight but couldn’t gain ground.
“My season has been rough, but I dug deep and it turned out this way,” Benjamin said. “I am grateful for silver. I got it done. I chopped a few hurdles and my race plan went out the window, but when I heard 'USA! USA!’ I ran as fast as I could to keep my second place.”
The 24-year-old Bassitt, who won silver in the 400m at this year’s World Indoor Championships in Belgrade, dipped at the line to edge Happio in the third-fastest bronze-medal time ever recorded at the World Championships.
When the scoreboard flashed Bassitt’s name as the third-place finisher, Benjamin leapt on his back and the two tumbled on to the track.
“To come out here, run a PB on the biggest stage and get a bronze, it's all I could ask for,” Bassitt said. “You can't do any better than your best and I think a medal is an incredible blessing. Sometimes you just have to run fast and that's what happened today. It's unbelievable. My first world outdoor championships to make a final and get a medal, it's not something a lot of people can say.”
Dos Santos, meanwhile, was thinking of how he would celebrate his breakthrough title.
“I will eat pizza at the athletes' village,” he said. “Many people have recommended it to me. Today I think I can drink soda.”
He deserves it.
Steve Wilson for World Athletics
|MEN'S 400m HURDLES MEDALLISTS|
|🥇||Alison dos Santos 🇧🇷 BRA||46.29 CR|
|🥈||Rai Benjamin 🇺🇸 USA||46.89 SB|
|🥉||Trevor Bassitt 🇺🇸 USA||47.39 PB|