Feature12 Jun 2018

Warholm: Still grounded, but more confident


World 400m hurdles champion Karsten Warholm has already picked up where he left off last year, lowering his own national record in two of his three races this season, first to 47.82 in Rome and again to 47.81 in Stockholm. Through it all, he's been battling with Qatari Abderrahman Samba in one of the sport's newest and most exciting rivalries.

Correspondent Mike Rowbottom chatted with Warholm soon after the now 22-year-old was named the 2017 Male Rising Star Award recipient. Here’s some of what he had to share.


Karsten Warholm’s aghast face in the aftermath of winning last year’s world 400m hurdles title, mouth hauled down on both sides by outspread fingers, featured in one of the IAAF Photos of the Year ahead of last November’s Awards.

That version of Warholm didn’t win on the night – but the real one did. And as the then 21-year-old Norwegian stepped up to collect his IAAF Male Rising Star award he offered an athletics audience another glimpse of a natural vivacity that put one in mind of that very good Jamaican sprinter who recently retired.

Mentioning Norway’s 2004 and 2008 Olympic javelin champion Andreas Thorkildsen, he casually announced with a grin: “He’s my date tonight actually.”

He actually wasn’t. But he definitely has been a part of Warholm’s athletics development, even though his work on improving the former decathlete’s javelin technique never saw fruition as this positive and personable athletics force embraced the 400m hurdles event in 2016.


Karsten Warholm and his javelin mentor Andreas Thorkildsen


Now Warholm - who began last season with an eye-catching IAAF Diamond League victory in his home city of Oslo over a field that included US Olympic champion Kerron Clement – stands as world champion in his new event after driving himself through the rain that battered London’s Olympic Stadium on the night of his final.

And even though Thorkildsen’s technical expertise has effectively gone to waste as far as he is concerned, the same cannot be said for the instincts and attitude that the double Olympic champion brings to bear upon anything he does.

Reflecting on Thorkildsen’s input at a post-ceremony breakfast – where for some reason he managed to consume only a small part of what he had put onto his plate – the newly minted Rising Star said:

“As a decathlete, obviously the hurdles and the 400m were my strongest points. My worst event was the javelin. I got to know Andreas while I was doing the decathlon a couple of years ago. We trained together for half a year, and he was helping me with my throwing technique. Of course it was improving, but I never got to try it out because I switched to the 400m hurdles in 2016.”


Karsten Warholm reacts after winning the 400m world title


But Warholm, who is now coached in his native Oslo by Leif Olav Alnes, acknowledged that training with Thorkildsen had a deeper benefit.

“Yes. He’s got the mentality of course, and I like to be around people like that.

“Winning at the Oslo Diamond League meeting gave me a really good start to (last) season. I gave everything at the Bislett Games, and after I could not move for a long time because of the lactic acid. You get that at the start of the season. And of course there was some emotion at winning on my home track. After I had won there I began to believe I could do well in London. I am still grounded, I hope. But after such a success you have a bit more confidence. I sometimes feel like I operate with some more authority, and for me this is a good feeling.”

After seeing his award win on the IAAF site, his mother and father and two sisters in Oslo sent him text messages of congratulation, as did many of his friends in the sport.


2017 world 400m hurdles champion Karsten Warholm


One project he has in mind going forward – to use the phrase literally – is to decide whether to learn to hurdle off his other foot, as he currently leads every jump with his left leg.

“I’m thinking about it,” he said. “I’m not good enough. I’m losing time on my lead leg. So I’m looking at it but I’ll take my time. It’s not the most important thing to do.”

The most important thing for him to do at that moment was to make sure he was on the 9.00am bus departing from the Meridien Beach Plaza Hotel to Nice Airport. As the deadline neared it became clear that a good portion of Warholm’s breakfast was destined to be as useful as his improved javelin technique. The young man whom European Athletics President Svein Arne Hansen had proudly called “The Viking” was off to Tenerife.

Holidaying? No. Training in readiness for a season that he hopes will end with another podium-top experience.

Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF