The 25-year-old is the headline performer from a strong generation of track and field stars in Norway
The odds are extraordinarily slim that Norway will follow their table-topping medal return from the last Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang with similar heroics at Tokyo 2020, but in a strong era for Norwegian athletics, a record-breaking 400m hurdler will have his eyes on more history and a gold medal at the Olympic Games.
The Ingebrigtsen brothers’ middle-distance machinations will also cause intrigue but Karsten Warholm will lead the Nordic nation’s medal charge on the track as he embarks for a second Olympics in career-best form.
Norway came away from the 2016 Olympic Games with just four bronzes to show for their efforts, the country’s worst return since the 1964 Olympics – coincidentally the last time the event was held in Tokyo.
They will be anticipating a silver, at the very least, from their new hurdling star. Born in the town of Ulsteinvik on an island jutting into the sea on Norway’s western coast, Warholm has become one of athletics’ most consistent performers.
Not content with establishing himself as the world’s leading long hurdler, Warholm remains the holder of the Norwegian record over 400 metres flat, and was an accomplished octathlete and decathlete in his youth.
Already twice a world champion at the age of 25, Warholm made his season debut for 2021 in his home nation, and duly broke Kevin Young’s 1992 world record at the Diamond League meeting in Oslo on July 1.
Indeed it was a record that, as Warholm remarked after breaking the mark, had remained intact for longer than the Norwegian has been alive, though the Norwegian believes he might have to run even quicker to take a first Olympic gold as he makes his debut in Tokyo.
“I knew that I have had fast times in my body for a long time but it’s one thing to know that you’re in good shape and it’s another thing to be able to go out and perform,” he said after recording the time.
“This was just the perfect moment. Everybody’s talking about this world record, it has been standing for many, many years. It’s older than me, actually.
“I really think there is more in the tank. And it might take another world record to win the Olympics.”
Warholm’s prediction is largely due to the presence of rival Rai Benjamin in Tokyo. The pair are hot favourites to duel for gold in a competitive 400m hurdles field for the Olympics, with each bettering their personal bests this year but yet to face each other in 2021, with the American opting not to travel to Europe before the Olympics.
Before Warholm’s record-breaking run in Oslo, Benjamin’s 46.83 seconds mark, achieved at the United States’ Olympic Trials in June, was the second-fastest time in history. Warholm will look back on the pair’s last encounter at a major championships – the Norwegian edged out Benjamin by little more than two tenths of a second to take gold at the 2019 World Championships in Doha.
Yet as developments in shoe technology push athletics in to a new era of tumbling records and faster and faster times, the pair may well push each other all the way at the National Stadium in Tokyo come 3 August. The 400m hurdles will take centre stage as the sole morning medal event – and a further lowering of his own world record could very well be on the cards for Warholm.