Karsten Warholm: "I want to compete every day"

Karsten Warholm of Norway reacts prior competing at 400m Hurdles Men during the ISTAF 2020 athletics meeting on 13 September 2020 (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)
Karsten Warholm of Norway reacts prior competing at 400m Hurdles Men during the ISTAF 2020 athletics meeting on 13 September 2020 (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

Norway's Karsten Warholm has not lost a race since 2018.

As a European record holder with a time of 46.87 seconds, the 24-year-old has the second-fastest 400m hurdles in history, just .09 seconds off Kevin Young's 1992 world record.

Despite being constantly reminded on a weekly basis about how close he is to breaking the 29-year long record, his motivation to get better is based on more than a time.

"I feel like it's an important goal for me that there has been someone running faster and that a lot of the guys I'm running against today are actually really good as well," he said during an Instagram Live with the Olympics.

"I'm always on my toes and people tend to keep me on my toes."

In fact, it was only six years ago that Warholm first competed in the 400m hurdles, when he met his coach Leif Olav Alnes. Originally Junior European silver medallist in the decathlon, Warholm made the switch to 400m hurdles when Alnes suggested it would give him a better shot of going to the Olympics.

Warholm took to hurdles like a duck takes to water, and liked the event so much that he could no longer return to the decathlon.

"Every year since that, I've had improvement," the 2017 and 2019 World Champion noted.

Within a few months of the duo pairing up, Warholm was a European Championship finalist and made the semi-finals of Rio 2016. Then, a year later, he became Norway's first male track world champion.

Now, with just six months until the postponed Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 take place, the Norwegian is a favourite for gold at Tokyo 2020. And with a world record within reach, it has proved to be good motivation.

"Right now if you look at numbers I'm one-tenth of a second from making that time but I'm closer than anyone has ever been before. It's nice for me to have that to work towards, especially in this Olympic year," Warholm said.

"We need the motivation right now and I'm going to work towards it. Of course, I'm close but I'm not there yet, only time will show if or when we are getting there."

The hunter becoming the hunted

They say it is more difficult to stay on top than to get there.

Being one of the top 400m hurdle athletes in the world right now has put a target on Warholm's back. He is the one to beat when hurdlers line up in the starting blocks.

"A lot of things changed after I won the world championships. It wasn't that normal in Norway to win in athletics and I felt like people appreciated what I had done," Warholm said.

"It changed everything and from that point forward you get used to winning and you want to win again."

After the London 2017 World Championships, the Ulsteinvik-born athlete was able to continue progressing ahead of the 2018 season, evening improving his time by 0.58 seconds.

Then in 2019 he ran two personal bests with Track and Field News noting that Edwin Moses 'never put up so many fast times in a season'.

Now with two consecutive undefeated seasons, the winning feeling has become something Warholm loves to experience.

"You could say it was some sort of addiction because I wanted to be at the top, I wanted to continue performing, continuing being one of the best in the world - that pursuit I'm still on and it motivates me everyday."

"I just want to compete every day."

Olympics Games: Round 2

Warholm had his first taste of the Olympic Games at Rio 2016.

He set a Norwegian record after winning his quarter-final to qualify for the semi-final. However, he exerted most of his energy in that race and narrowly missed out on making the final, finishing fourth in his semi-final.

His experience in Rio has made him "feel more comfortable going into my second Olympics, knowing what to expect".

With an extra year to train, 2020 gave him 365 days to become even better - a scary prospect considering where he is at the moment. While last year offered only a handful of opportunities to race due to the pandemic, Warholm was simply unbeatable in his pet event - 400m hurdles.

"Everyone in the world had a difficult situation in 2020 and also right now. We tried to turn it around. We started talking about [how] training was the best way to improve and we got a lot of time because the world was in lockdown," Warholm explained.

"Fortunately the training arena that we use was open very early so just continued putting in the work. That was very important for us."

Aside from his six 400m hurdles victories last year, he also managed to break the 300m hurdles world record at the Impossible Games in June.

"In the summer we got results from that hard work. After that we went back to training because for me that's what it's all about. I just want to become better."

But how has Warholm planned to try to keep the momentum going in 2021? There is one specific motivating factor.

"Knowing that it's a big chance the Olympics will happen helps me a lot," he said.

But he is also hoping that he'll be able to race against more athletes.

"I'm hoping the summer of 21 will give me more chances to run for better times and run against all my competitors and for my competitors to train normally again. For the world to become more normal again and just show everybody how hard I've been working - that is my motivation."