Stuart Weir writes on the excitement of the 400m hurdles this season, especially after the opening of Karston Warholm this past week. With three men under 47.60 so far, how fast will they go?
The 400H is waking up
At an awards ceremony just before Christmas I met up with David Hemery, 1968 Olympic Champion at 400H. His winning time was 48.1, a new world record at the time. We reflected on the hibernation of the event. Hemery told me: “I don’t really know why the 400m hurdles has not moved on but it’s a very hard event. I would still be in the medals at championships today with the times that I was running in 1968. But to be able to run that kind of time after three days of competition takes a massive amount of endurance. To be successful you need a combination of being a decent hurdler and being willing to do a mammoth amount of work. I think the ones who are super fast sprint hurdlers often don’t want to do the work it takes to do the 400 hurdles”. He added “It was over 20 years before Kriss Akabusi took my British record”.
All that looks like changing this year. Last summer in Paris, Abderrahman Samba ran 46.98.
Rai Benjamin has run 47.02. In Rome last week, Benjamin was asked if he thought we would see the World Record go at the World Championships in Doha this year. He replied, “No. I think it will have gone before that” adding that with Samba and Benjamin in a Diamond League together there was every chance the record would go. The current world record was set in the 1992 Olympics by Kevin Young in 46.78.
Then there is Karsten Warholm. In 2017 he won the World Championship in 48.35, confirming Hemery’s point as he(Hemery) had run 48.1 in 1968. Warholm was a surprise winner – though not as surprised as Jonathan Edwards, when Warholm insisted in doing his gold-medallist interview in a Viking helmet!
I spoke to him earlier in week about the helmet moment. He told me: “I don’t remember a lot about the race actually but it is probably the best and strongest memory that I have. The race meant a lot to me and I am world champion. [Wearing the helmet] That would be a mix between adrenalin and that I was really, really happy to win. As I said I don’t remember much of the because it was such pure joy”.
He said that being world champion had “done a lot for my career. I have very good opportunities now and people are very interested in what I do, which is also a huge motivation. So the 2017 World Championship was very good for me. For Doha I want to do just the same as I did in London. I just have to run and try to be at the top level. It is tougher because it’s late in the year but I will try to do everything in my power to do a really good race. First, I have to get into the final and then we will see. But anything can happen in a final”.
To show that he needed to be taken seriously he won the European Championship 400h in Berlin last year and the European indoor 400m flat in 2019. So to the Bislett Games 2019. In a race with no serious competition and running in lane 7, he powered to a PR and European record of 47.33, commenting “That was unbelievable, my face said it all! I’m just so happy – it’s crazy to run a European record and it’s amazing to do it here at Bislett. My coach thought I would run 47.30 so he was nearly right. I’ve worked so hard during the winter with the pressure coming at me, so this is a very special feeling, it’s the best in the world. I’ve had a very bad cramp in my calf since the race but I’ve had it a couple of times before – right now, I want to cry like a little girl! It’s worth the cramp, though – it’s worth anything – this is one of the best days of my life. A European record feels so good, it’s so unbelievable – it shows my training works. I didn’t believe it when I saw the time, I live for this and I really love track and field on days like this”.
The showdown between Benjamin and Samba is eagerly awaited. But that Warholm is just a party-pooper. He really wants to spoil their duel.