Karsten Warholm, a 21-year-old comet from the coastal town of Ulsteinvik, made Norwegian history Wednesday night when he won a gold medal at the track and field World Championships in London. Warholm beat the reigning Olympic champion in front of 60,000 cheering fans including his mother.
Warholm celebrated by wandering around the track in pouring rain, adorned by a Norwegian flag and plastic Viking helmet. Corny as it was, the young World Champion instantly became Norway’s “new, perfect hero,” in the words of newspaper Dagbladet. It was the first time a Norwegian athlete had won a medal in a track and field race at the World Championships since Vebjørn Rodal’s bronze in the 800 meters 22 years ago.
The country’s new champion appeared alternately jubilant and dazed by his victory. “This feeling, I can’t manage to describe it,” he told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “It’s completely crazy. There was so much support. Things have just gone so well. And now we’re standing here. I don’t know what to say, it’s completely amazing.”
Warholm, still wearing the plastic horned helmet while talking live on national TV, composed himself enough to note that “I have worked hard for this, it’s the world’s best feeling.” And then he remenbered that many fans, friends and family members were watching back home in the scenic county of Møre og Romsdal. Staring directly into the TV camera, he exclaimed: “I have to greet everyone back home in Ulsteinvik. You are all fantastic. I love you!”
He ran the 400-meter hurdle race in 48.35 seconds, just ahead of Yasmani Copello of Turkey (48.49) and last year’s Olympic gold-medal winner Kerron Clement of the US (48.52). Clement had been favoured and Warholm had earlier told NRK that Clement had barely acknowledged him during preliminary competition leading up to Wednesday’s final. Warholm’s coach, Leif Olav Alnes, said it could have been just “mind games” on the part of Clement.
“That doesn’t work on us,” Alnes told NRK on Tuesday. “We don’t operate with mind games, we don’t need that.” Clement later told reporters he thinks he’s still the world’s best hurdler, and partially blamed his loss to Warholm on the rain that poured down on the championship competition all evening in London.
Alnes and Warholm, meanwhile, have had a great season so far, with Warholm also winning Diamond League events in Oslo and Stockholm. His personal record in the 400 meter hurdles is 48.25, even better than what he did in London. On Wednesday, Alnes said he was impressed by Warholm, and very proud.
“We couldn’t get a better result” than World Championship gold, Alnes told NRK after the race was run in the pouring rain and, for summer in London, cool temperatures. Alnes said it “was just like a good Norwegian summer day.”
Back in Norway, which has been hit by heavy rain much of this past summer, members of the local athletics organization and his relatives were crying tears of joy. So was his family in the grandstands and Warholm himself.
“I haven’t understood this yet,” he told NRK. “It feels like I’ve seen a ghost, it’s just too much, too much.”
Warholm won praise from former racer Rodal, who claimed Warholm “did everything right” in the race and from his mentor and sports hero Andreas Thorkildsen, who won several Olympic and World Championship medals as a javelin thrower.
“I’m so proud, so proud,” Thorkildsen said. “He has grown to such a degree this year. There’s something very deep here when he does such a good job. I think he’s too young to really understand how well he has done.”