In focus: a closer look at Warholm's unbeaten 2019 season

Karsten Warholm
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Men’s European Athlete of the Year Karsten Warholm was soundly beaten on six occasions last season by Abderrahman Samba from Qatar who was at the time widely expected to continue his reign of dominance all the way through to an anticipated homecoming at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha.

During those run of victories, Samba became the second athlete in history to break the 47 second-barrier in the 400m hurdles with 46.98 but the Norwegian, who is still a relative newcomer to the discipline having focused primarily on the combined events until 2016, responded by amassing one of the greatest ever seasons in the history of his event which he concluded by defending his title at the World Championships in Doha.

“It's easy to say afterwards this was going to happen but I wasn't too sure, to be honest. This was a very hard race,” said the typically ebullient Warholm at the time. “I had a pain in my chest, I thought I was going to die but here I am: world champion. I said to Leif [Olav Alnes] today I am going to dig deeper than I ever did. If my heart stops then you know I was happy while it happened.”

The 400m hurdles final was one of the most anticipated events of the championships not only for Norwegian and Qatari fans but for athletics fans around the globe. This was the first time three hurdlers with lifetime bests under the 47 second-barrier had lined up in the same race and the spectacle lived up to the billing. The always fast-starting Warholm held off Rai Benjamin from the United States for the title with Samba making a late charge off the final barrier to ensure bronze.

This was the first instalment of a three-way rivalry which could soon displace Kevin Young’s long-standing and, until recently, seemingly impenetrable world record of 46.78. The three leading aspirants are only aged between 22 and 24 whereas Young was one month shy of his 26th birthday and in his sixth season of international competition when he set the current world record at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Warholm is now closest to Young's record after prevailing in a race which will be remembered as a classic in the Zurich Diamond League where the Norwegian lowered his European record down to 46.92 ahead of a pursuing Benjamin who was also rewarded with a sub-47 clocking of 46.98. This was the first time in history two athletes had broken 47 seconds in the same race.

Warholm might have raced sparingly outdoors but almost each race yielded a significant outcome. The 23-year-old won all seven of his 400m hurdles finals, improving the European record three times - 47.33 in Oslo, 47.12 in London, 46.92 in Zurich - and his 47.43 clocking at the Norwegian Championships was the fastest time set in a national championships outside of the United States.

From his seven 400m hurdles finals, Warholm averaged a time of 47.33 which is even faster than Stephane Diagana's previous European record of 47.37 which stood from 1995 until June this year.

Warholm's seven 400m hurdles finals in 2019:

1 47.85 Stockholm (2. TJ Holmes 49.25)
1 47.33 Oslo (2. Thomas Barr 49.11)
1 47.12 London (2. Yasmani Copello 48.93)
1 47.43 Norwegian Championships (2. Andreas Haara Bakketun 50.97)
1 47.26 Paris (2. Ludvy Vaillant 48.30)
1 46.92 Zurich (2. Rai Benjamin 46.98) 
1 47.42 World Championships (2. Rai Benjamin 47.66)

Warholm's season highlights:

European Athletics Indoor Championships 

Warholm's coach Leif Olav Alnes might have been reluctant to allow his pupil to compete at the Glasgow 2019 European Athletics Indoor Championships but the Norwegian, whose style of running and abundant strength makes him ideally suited to the indoor 400m, produced one of the highlights of the sell-out championships, winning the 400m title in 45.05 to equal Thomas Schonlebe's long-standing European indoor record.


Oslo Diamond League

Warholm first came to international notoriety with a breakthrough victory in the Oslo Diamond League in 2017 and the very same track in the Norwegian capital provided the setting for his first of three European records this season. Warholm improved his lifetime best from 47.64 to 47.33 to shave 0.04 from the European record. "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," said Warholm.


London Diamond League

Faster times were to follow as Warholm displaced his mark from the Oslo Diamond League with 47.12 in the London Diamond League on the same track where he won the world title in 2017. Warholm shaved 0.21 from his record despite stuttering at the last barrier. "It takes hard work, dedication and a lot for me to get out those extraordinary times," he said.


Zurich Diamond League

Warholm had won his first five races of the season with one second-plus winning margins but the Zurich Diamond League presented the reigning world champion with his first significant challenge of the season. Warholm went head-to-head with Rai Benjamin from the United States for the first time and their first meeting will be remembered as one of the classic races in their event. Warholm took the European record down to 46.92 ahead of Benjamin in 46.98.


IAAF World Athletics Championships

Warholm concluded his unbeaten campaign by becoming the fourth athlete in history to win back-to-back titles in the men's 400m hurdles at the World Championships. The lane draw might have been an unfamiliar one for Warholm who favours the outside lanes but the Norwegian soared around a lap of the Khalifa International Stadium from lane four in 47.42 to complete one of the greatest season in the history of the event.