Norway’s gold- and bronze-medal winners at the track and field World Championships in London both got heroes’ welcomes when they landed at airports back in Oslo and Stavanger. Gold-medalist Karsten Warholm, meanwhile, is also facing some golden fortunes ahead, with millions in sponsorship deals predicted to pour in.
The young man from the small town of Ulsteinvik on Norway’s northwest coast who won the men’s 400-meter hurdles last week was met with Norwegian flags and applause when he landed at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen Saturday night. He even got to sit in the cockpit of the aircraft, to best experience the relatively rare honor of taxiing through a festive tunnel of water formed by the airport’s fire trucks when a Norwegian hero makes a triumphant return. The same honour was bestowed upon Alexander Rybakk back in 2009 when he won the Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow, and Magnus Carlsen when he won the World Championship in chess.
Norwegian athletes win lots of gold medals but they’re mostly skiers and skaters. It’s historic when a Norwegian wins gold in high-profile non-winter sports, like Warholm did before around 60,000 sports fans in London and millions more tuning in from all over the world. Only six other Norwegians have won such competitions over the past 34 years.
‘Opened the gate to economic heaven’
Financial experts predict his value to commercial sponsors will be gold as well. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that Jacob Lund, former sponsor chief for Norway’s biggest bank DNB, thinks sponsors will compete for Warholm’s endorsements.
“He’s become a World Champion in track and field, which is gigantic on a worldwide basis,” Lund told DN. “Therefore he’ll have a whole world of possibilities. Big international firms and leading brands of merchandise will be reporting their interest.”
Lund said that in terms of his market value, Warholm “has now opened the gate to heaven, in a pure economic sense. If he does the right thing in negotiating sponsor agreements, takes his time and evaluates the market, millions are lying there waiting for him.”
DNB’s former sponsor boss worked with Norwegian javelin thrower Andreas Thorkildsen, whose value also shot up after he won gold at the 2004 Olympics in Athens: “Thorkildsen had a personal agreement with DNB alone that was worth NOK 900,000 a year, plus he made millions every year from a Chinese clothing manufacturer, who was just one of hia sponsors. With all respect to Andreas, the 400-meter hurdles are more spectacular than javelin-throwing.”
Boost for Norwegian athletics
Lund also thinks Norway’s national athletics association will now become more attractive to potential sponsors as well, and its president, Ketil Tømmernes agrees. “It’s clear that a World Championship means that we show out potential,” Tommernes told DN. “We have many good athletes.”
Warholm’s manager has been his mother, Kristine Gølin Haddal, who said she hadn’t had time to go through all the messages that came in right after her son won. “Sponsor agreements are not necessarily the first thing we’ll sit down with, but we expect to address them in September-October,” Haddal told DN. “We always spend plenty of time choosing who we want to cooperate with.” They currently include Nike, the family’s local bank Sparebanken Møre, car dealer Ulstein Bil and Jobzone Norge.
“He has many good sponsors who have been with him for a long time, so we’ll need to evaluate whether there are any new ones with whom we’ll enter into new agreements,” Haddal said.
Ingebrigtsen back home for more training
Filip Ingebrigtsen, meanwhile, also received a heroes’ welcome on Monday when he landed at Stavanger’s Sola airport, not far from his home town of Sandnes on the West Coast. He won a bronze medal in the men’s 1500-meter race Sunday night.
“I slept poorly last night, so it will be great with some quiet days in Sandnes,” Ingebrigtsen told reporters gathered at the airport along with fans bearing flags and flowers to congratulate him. The mayor was also there, and Ingebrigtsen is already harvesting some financial rewards as well.
He seemed determined to stay grounded though, and even before boarding the flight over the North Sea, he’d been out on a training run Monday morning. The season isn’t over, he noted, so he can’t simply take time off now and enjoy the glory of London.
“It’s right back to the everyday grind,” he told NRK shortly after midnight, and after there was some celebrating with champagne. Now both Warholm and Ingebrigtsen are preparing for the Diamond League finale in Zurich later this month. “That job has to be done, and I’m starting to work on it immediately,” Ingebrigtsen said.