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“I feel like I’m flying” – 400m hurdler Karsten Warholm goes for gold in Tokyo

Words by Rob Chilton

The Norwegian athlete smashed the world record

If elite sport is all about coming into your best form at the right moment, Karsten Warholm’s timing for the Tokyo Olympics couldn’t have been better. In Oslo in July the Norwegian athlete broke the world record for the 400m hurdles with 46.70, breaking Kevin Young’s time that had stood since his gold medal-winning performance at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. On Tuesday, Warholm pipped American Ria Benjamin in the 400m hurdles final and obliterated the world record in one of the most anticipated match-ups at the Games.

A former decathlete, Warholm’s 400m hurdles world championship wins in 2017 and 2019 came either side of a European crown in 2018. The 25-year-old explained his physical and mental plans that resulted in gold in Tokyo and revealed the secrets of the running spikes he wears that were designed by engineers at Puma and the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team.

Warholm breaks the European 400m hurdles record in 2019

What was the secret to your world record in July?

A lot of hard work. We’ve been doing hard work for years, and what has gotten us here is consistency. We are always all-in on performance. Faster is in our minds all the time, it’s all I think about. My sleeping, my eating, my training… it’s my life, my passion.

What does it feel like to run at top speed?

When you’re in the shape of your life, the magic with running is that there is this feeling... I feel like I’m flying. You know when it’s there, it just feels right. However, you can also easily feel it when you’re not having that kind of day.

What do you find special about the 400m hurdles?

Before the hurdles, I was doing the decathlon and I liked having things to work with. But with the 400m hurdles, it combines a lot of things that are appealing to me: I like the mix of speed, fatigue, getting over the hurdle, keeping your stride – the event has a nice flow.

Warholm is tipped for gold this week in Tokyo

What are the key techniques you work on?

There are always things to perfect with the technical aspect. People think it’s about looking nice going over the hurdle, but it’s actually about not losing speed, maintaining your speed, and keeping your rhythm.

The Puma spikes you wear were designed with help from Formula One engineers. Do you like watching F1 races?

F1 is one of the most popular sports right now, we all saw the Netflix series [Drive to Survive]. Beginning this project with Puma, I became an even bigger fan because I understand it now and I watch all the races.

Leif Olav Alnes is Warholm’s coach and mentor

What do you like about the sport?

I’m fascinated with what goes on behind the scenes in F1, how these people are so professional, and everything they put in to make the car go faster. All that knowledge, they can give to me as an athlete.

How do the Evospeed Tokyo Future Faster+ spikes help your performance?

They maintain my energy and give support, especially when you get tired. In that last bend, you need support for the last 100m – that’s when I can feel the propulsion that gives me a fast finish.

How involved were you in the shoe design?

I was always pushing the Puma team, we’ve almost been at war with them to get the best product [laughs]. My coach once said to me if I could lose more weight. I told him, ‘Come on, I’m training all day!’ He said, ‘No, I mean the weight of the shoe!’ I’ve been working on this product for a long, long time. We haven’t rushed it out. On the starting blocks this season I have felt confident because we tested the shoe 1,000 times. I know that it works because my times speak for themselves.

Warholm says his Puma spikes gives him propulsion on the track

What would happen if you raced against an F1 car?

Haha, we’d be head to head for a while then I’d totally lose – not a good idea. But one day I’d like to test drive an F1 car. Maybe Toto [Wolff, CEO of the Mercedes-AMG team] can help me with that.

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