Water canons sprayed over the private jet that brought Olympic heroes Karsten Warholm, Eivind Henriksen and their medals back to Norway on Friday, after they won gold and silver medals in Tokyo this week. Warholm generated headlines worldwide, after shattering his own world record and running what’s been branded as the best race in Olympic history.
“It was just a fantastic, fine moment,” Warholm told Norwegian reporters after winning gold in the 400-meter hurdles in what’s widely viewed as an “incredible” 45.94 seconds. He immediately gave credit to his coach Leif Olav Alnes: “Leif was touched, it was great. He’s a man who deserves this so much. I absolutely seriously believe he’s the best trainer in the world. I rely so much on him.”
Newspaper Aftenposten reported this week how “It’s never ‘I,’ it’s always ‘we’ when Karsten Warholm talks about his success.” His athletic triumphs are the result of a strong team effort that includes not least his immediate family but most of all Alnes and training partner Amalie Iuel. She didn’t do well in Tokyo herself, but was thrilled for Warholm and Alnes. They’re a tightly knit trio. Could he have performed so well without them?
“I believe 100 percent it would not have been possible,” Warholm said. “This is so clearly a team effort, and there’s lots of pride and heart behind what we do.” Warholm’s mother Kristine Gølin Haddal also firmly believes in the team, and Alnes took over as Warholm’s coach only after a family get-together at home in Norway’s stormy Nordvestlandet. They first met in Ørsta in 2015 and they simply clicked. Alnes liked the family’s values and the family liked Alnes’ educational approach to coaching.
Warholm had all the odds against him in many ways, growing up in an area known for chilly rain, sleet, wind and lots of it. After winning a 300-meter race around the City Hall in Ulsteinvik at the age of seven, and enjoying the cheering crowds along the way, a runner was born. Aftenposten wrote this week that the unplanned experience (a buddy had coaxed him into taking part in the race instead of just watching it) made him want to start running and taking part in athletics regularly.
He turned the stormy weather around Ulsteinvik into an advantage, running on a local beach in the absence of any athletics hall. It was practical and a means of training that offered variation and resistance. It was clear Warholm had talent and potential as a track and field athlete, and he won gold at the World Championships for those under age 18 in Ukraine. He started winning nearly every competition he entered. Alnes was brought in to sharpen his talent, and concentrated on the 400-meter hurdles. All involved agreed that the key word was “development,” not any quick decisions to obtain hasty results.
Fourteen years after winning the race around City Hall, Warholm crushed all other competitors at the Bislett Games in Oslo. He laughed off the prospect of one day winning Olympic gold, telling Aftenposten at the time that “I have lots of time, I don’t have to do anything now.” Two-and-a-half months after winning at Bislett, he won gold at the World Championships in London. And now he’s made Olympic history.
Now he and Alnes are considering dropping the hurdles and having Warholm just run 400 meters, to see how fast he can go. More world records may fall.
Warholm’s exceptional performance in Tokyo wasn’t the only victory being cheered in Norway this week. Eivind Henriksen from Bjørndal in Oslo turned into a silver sensation after a hammer throw of 81.58 meters, showing strength he didn’t know he had. “It’s hard to describe the feeling, it means everything,” he said after securing his medal. “I worked so many years. I’m just shocked.”
Wojciech Nowicki of Poland threw farthest, 82.52 meters, to win the gold, but the 30-year-old Henriksen was delighted anyway. And moved, because his coach, Einar Brynemo died just before the European Championships in 2018. Henriksen wished Brynemo could have shared in his achievement in Tokyo. He’s also suffered injuries and undergone two knee operations with disappointing results, only to make a huge comeback at the Olympics.
All the while he’s been active in the local sports club Tjalve that organizes the annual Holmenkollen Relay Race and his volunteerism won him the “Best Team Player” award at Norway’s annual athletics gala in 2019. “He’s one of those guys you just want to wish well,” Tjalve sports chief John Ertzgaard told Aftenposten. “He’s our greatest athlete, but he always put others ahead of himself.”
Few would argue that Henriksen and Warholm deserved all the celebrations when they landed back in Oslo on Friday. They’re not the types to rest on their laurels, though, with Warholm back in action at a Diamond League competition in Lausanne on August 26.