Carsten Warholm and Rye Benjamin are ready for a rematch

Karsten Warholm remembers two things about the moment when everything changed – in this magical race, in his career and in his life.

That was before the final hurdle and the end of the crazy 30m 400m race at the Tokyo Olympics. He looked at his rival, Ry Benjamin, who suddenly closed in on his left shoulder. Exhausted and without oxygen, he began to see stars. And immediately, Benjamin was gone and Warholm was crossing the finish line to win the gold medal for Norway, a rarity for a country far better known for its winter sports, salmon and oil wealth.

Both Warholm and Benjamin broke the previous world record that day, making their rematch Tuesday night a can’t-miss event at this week’s world track and field championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. Warholm brushed aside concerns over a recent hamstring tear and lit up. in the final with Benjamin on Sunday when they both won their semi-finals. They combined for a streak in the 400-meter hurdles that had not been accomplished since Edwin Moses won 122 consecutive races in the 1980s.

Despite his stardom, Moses did not have a major rival during his career, as the 26-year-old Warholm has in Benjamin, who is 24. Warholm and Benjamin also finished one-two in the same order, the last World Cup. Although they are friendly off the track, their duel is now as intense as Warholm lets out a Viking roar as he beats his upper chest, below his shoulders, before charging into the blocks to start each race. It’s a rivalry that the sport desperately needs.

“He trains in the US; I train in Norway. It is Nike; I’m a cougar,” Warholm said in a recent interview from his home in Oslo. “He is fighting for his first gold medal. I’m trying to protect my territory.”

Now, about that grunting and chest-beating.

According to Warholm, the ritual began at a training session in Oslo. Because the country is so small (about 5.4 million people) and the track is something of an afterthought, behind Nordic skiing, it has never had any competition. Her coach and several female quarter milers are the extent of her daily company training.

This meant he had to find a way to release adrenaline before training. He tried grunting and breaststroke one day and loved it.

He was raising his head a little lower than his body. Then the trainer informed me that getting my heart pumping before a quarter-mile sprint was a terrible idea. He listened and raised the point of contact, but continued to beat. The sound of a fist hitting flesh can echo through the lower bowl of a track stadium.

“There’s a lot of power in that,” Warholm said.

Grunting and chest-beating may not be enough for Warholm to overcome his latest hurdle. In June, in the season-opening 400-meter hurdles, Warholm suffered a hamstring injury after the first hurdle. Since then, he and his coach, Leif Allnes, have had little else on their minds other than trying to stay healthy for the World Cup rematch against Benjamin.

When Warholm took off in that race in Rabat, Morocco, Alnes was relieved that his prized student wasn’t crumpled to the ground, as is often the case with severe hip fractures. That said, the 400m hurdles is basically a sprint, and 99 percent of sprinting is not healthy enough. If Warholm is not 100 percent, he is not running.

“I always say if you don’t have time to do it right now, when will you,” Allness said in a recent interview. “We have to be wise. This is not a decision that can be based on emotions.”

Warholm was involved in soccer and winter sports as a child growing up in the fjords near the west coast of Norway, but he emerged as a track star in middle age and never looked back. He was in the tenth grade. His two best events were the 400m and 110m hurdles. Alnes, a longtime coach at the Norwegian Athletics Federation, told him that combining the two events would be the fastest way to the Olympics.

He was right. Warholm qualified for the 400m hurdles at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where she did not make the final, but posted the 10th fastest time in the semifinals. The following year, in London, he won his first World Championship at the age of just 21. Track pundits said it was a fluke because Warholm won with the slowest win at the World Championships.

No one calls him now.

According to Moses, Warholm’s life and training regime in Norway, away from distractions and competition, most likely helped him.

“Competitors promote your knowledge and training,” Moses said in an interview. “I knew how good a runner Harald Schmid was and that when I got up in California, he worked all day and finished in West Germany.”

Warholm met Moses years ago at a track meet in Oslo, and Moses has long been an influence on Warholm’s career. Moses, who has a degree in physics and is considered the Albert Einstein of the 400m hurdles, was the first of the contestants to take only 13 steps between hurdles.

The standard used to be a 14. Now almost everyone uses a 13, including Warholm, although at just under 6-foot-2, he’s several inches shorter than many of his top competitors, making it more difficult.

Arriving in Tokyo, the confrontation with Benjamin turned out to be special. Benjamin broke the world record by five hundredths of a second at the US Olympic Trials in late June. The mark was almost 29 years. Warholm then broke it in July with eight hundred. Both suggested that winning the gold medal would still require breaking it.

Warholm likes to get off to a fast start, stretching the gap between himself and the runner on the left while closing the gap between himself and the runner on the right. Tokyo was no exception.

In 100 meters, he overtook Brazilian champion Alison dos Santos. For a moment, Warholm thought he might be starting too fast. But there was no turning back.

As she rounded the last bend, she looked at Benjamin, who was slung over her left shoulder. It was all leading up to the final hurdle. Warholm had a clean pass when he needed it most. Benjamin missed his mark just a little bit.

“I saw him and then I didn’t see him again,” he said.

He grabbed his hands and ran to the finish line. He looked at the scoreboard, saw his time and caught himself. On one of the fastest tracks ever built with high-tech spikes, he ran 45.94, three-quarters of a second faster than his previous record, but just a quarter of a second ahead of Benjamin.

It was a rare gold medal in Norwegian racing and the country’s first since 1996, there will probably be more now that people see what is possible.

“It’s like a stone dropped in water, and the ripples go very far if it’s big enough,” Alnes said.

Four days later, fellow Norwegian Jakob Ingebrigtsen won gold in the 1,500m, making the two men icons in their country at the skier level.

Warholm spends his free time decorating models from Legos. It has one Colosseum in Rome and another in Hogwarts, from Harry Potter and London Bridge. It’s a release, he said, something to do besides run and stare at a screen. He also likes to model sports cars. He built models for Lamborghini, Bugatti and McLaren. He drives a Porsche Taycan, an electric sports car.

When he’s having a bad day, he pulls out his phone and looks up a video of his race from last year’s Olympics. He did this at least 15 times. It always works.

“Forever, this will be my most important race,” he said. “I will never have another chance to win my first Olympic gold medal.”

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