Deji Ogeyingbo wrote this piece on Norway’s Karsten Warholm, who defended his title at the European Championships from Berlin 2018 in a tumultuous year.
As many know, Karsten Warholm was in Rabat, Morocco, and as he was hitting the first hurdle, he experienced a lower leg injury.
This meant that the Olympic star from Norway spent the next five weeks trying to recover from the injury, and the wondering of the global track audience, whether the World record holder and Olympic champion in the 400-meter hurdles could be ready for the Eugene World Champs.
Deji Ogeyingbo helps us appreciate the absolute dilemma that Karsten faced in Eugene and then the return to form at the European Championships in Munich 2022.
Karsten Warholm: The Viking whose wit and bravery get him a European title in a turbulent season
Quick wit, bravery, and action. These are some of the characteristics of a Viking. Sometimes they are often asked — indeed, they ask themselves — “How bad do you want it?” Athletes are a whole lot like warriors. Many times, they find themselves in this dilemma.
It’s as if desire could be quantified. Truth is, that’s an empty question that elicits mostly vacant responses. The athlete usually understands his or her role in this exchange: To make it pass as quickly and mercifully as possible, providing for a typically glazed response, like “This means the world to me or I’ve been dreaming of this since I was a kid. “
Desire can’t be calibrated with words. It has to be followed up with top performances on the track. Sometimes, injuries can be the gap that derails the quality of an athlete and how he/she is meant to perform.
So, what happens when you’ve achieved everything in a sport like athletics? Where do you find the desire to continue to challenge for top honors? Mentally and physically, you might be drained. In modern-day sports, money, and endorsement continues to challenge athletes to continue to reach uncharted territory.
Karsten Warholm has come to realize settling for the next best prize can be a success in what has been a turbulent season. A mercurial talent, elevating the sport over the last half a decade by rising through the divisions with a combination of mesmerizing angles and majestic footwork to win Olympic and world titles while also snagging the world record over the 400mH in the span of five years, 2021 has been such a different year for the Norwegian.
His winning time in Munich, 47.12, was the fastest he has run this year. It pales compared to the world record he ran at the Olympics in Tokyo, where he clocked 45.94s.
“I had a very tough season with injuries, so to be here and to bounce back means the world,” said Warholm. “I learned that I should never take anything like this for granted. Now I am going to enjoy it even more because it was so tough. I hope that I can be injury free and train at a high level so you can never count me out again.”
Warholm’s Viking-style kind of run put him in firm control from the get-go in the race. Unlike his previous races this year which seemed like he was holding back and not wanting to demand much from his body, the Olympic Champion went out hard and took his opponents to the cleaners in the first five barriers. That move gave him the confidence that he might just be back to his best.
There was no Allison Dos Santos nor Rai Benjamin, two sprint-hurdlers who had always put him under pressure throughout his reign as a warrior. It was one less worry. His injury-laden season saw him struggle towards the last 150m. Maybe the defeat in Oregon at the world championships was playing out in his mind. Would his body give in? It didn’t seem so.
And although he held the 10m lead going into the home straight while his body looked to be tying up slightly over the final two barriers, Warholm held on for his first major win of the season.
Typically, athletes always hold back and limit the number of races they compete in. For a champion like Warholm, the number gets smaller. In this year’s case, injuries limited it to five. His scorecard; Four wins and a seventh-place finish. But it is this title that will fondly convince Warholm that he is a true Viking. One that can bounce back from the jaws of defeat and still emerge victorious.
“I think that I have experienced life how it probably should be,” Warholm told Olympics.com in Munich. “I’ve been living on this pink little cloud for the last year, always performing and getting an injury, It kind of sucks because you’re an athlete, and all you want to do is sports, so an injury keeps you away from that and that is no fun and also it keeps me away from performing the way that I want it to. But it’s an experience as well, and it’s a part of my journey.
Warholm’s influence is profound: beyond his brilliance on the track in Munich, his European title win ensures he’s on the right pedestal to continue his relentless pursuit of greatness regardless of his little blip in Oregon.