The stopwatch stopped. 45.94s. 400m hurdles. Karsten Warholm. The Scream. The mouth covers his entire face. Eyes wide open. The hands, fast, go to the head. The portrait of stupefaction. Flash. Then, with the same wild impulse, the hands lower to the chest and tear the shirt, as if to release the wild scream that comes from his mouth, from his lungs. And through the hole the heart threatens to escape in a display of tachycardia and envy. And the accelerated beating of his heart that seeks to regain its rhythm is almost heard in the stadium, almost empty, a few hundred journalists, as many technicians, athletes, volunteers. Immense deaf and silent bleachers.
They were 400 meters, not smooth, as the brand might suggest, but with 10 fences almost one meter high (91.4 centimeters) along the way.
Such an impression, a happy hallucination, the reward of the thrill of those who star, of those who witness, a unique moment, which they know unrepeatable, almost immortal, has not been lived in an Olympic stadium, perhaps since David Rudisha ran in London 2012 the 800m in 1m 40.91s or, if not, since Usain Bolt, in Beijing 2008, set the world record of the 100m in 9.69s and, days later, the 200m in 19.30s. Or, even more so, going back to what the books say about how Bob Beamon’s 8.90-meter jump was experienced in Mexico 68. Or, without going that far, when Kevin Young broke the 47s barrier in the 400m hurdles in the final of Barcelona 92, which at that time was thought impossible, because even Edwin Moses, the best hurdler in history, had collided with she.
29 years have passed. Kevin Young has held out for nearly three decades. His world record fell in July. He was already beaten by Karsten Warholm, a 25-year-old Norwegian who has made fences his life, his obsession, and even when he walks down the street he counts his steps, 13 steps every 40 meters, from the first fence to the ninth; 15 steps to tackle stronger, with more jump at the start, with more acceleration, the tenth, the Tourmalet that devours everyone. With a record 46.70s, Warholm arrived in Tokyo. A provisional mark. They all know it. In the final, it is felt the night before, the same morning under the shower. It’s known. Rai Benjamin, from Mount Vernon, New York, 25 years as Warholm. Neither of them had been born in ’92 to then-young Young. There is no doubt: the North American athlete who is so close to Warholm, by hundredths, but always behind, will push him. There will be a new world record. Sure. Kevin Young also knows it, who, he throws the earth, bets more on his compatriot. “Warholm has reached its limit,” he says. “Benjamin is faster. Run the 100m in 10.03s, the 200m in 19.9s. If there is anyone capable of falling below 46s, and it is not crazy even if they call me crazy for saying that this barrier can fall, it is Benjamin. The only advantage of Warholm is that as he has been a decathlon athlete, he has more capacity to withstand pain on the straight, which he usually arrives dead due to his very fast starts, far from him the vice of calculation ”.
Benjamin will be very fast, but, they remind Young, in the 400m sprint no one among the finalists would beat the Norwegian, who is the European champion on the flat track, and at 21 he was already running in less than 45s (44 , 87s) the distance without hurdles. “And”, says Sergio Fernández, the Spanish record holder, “Warholm would be able to run the 400m sprint on 43 lows … Crazy.”
Between the eighth and the ninth hurdles, Benjamin accelerates, and it seems that he is closing in on Warholm, who has gone out like a madman, as always, wild. They approach, almost at par, the Norwegian always one step ahead, to the tenth fence, which is no longer 91.4 centimeters, but an enormity that must be climbed with the legs already almost paralyzed, clubs, because lactic acid It invades them, and it screams, and the pain is excruciating. If an athlete thinks with his head, at that moment he stops, he stops running, he feels stupid. But everyone there thinks with their legs. They order to continue advancing. It is the culminating moment of the duel. The tenth fence devours Rai Benjamin. It throws Warholm into a stopped time that was perhaps not believed to exist.
Benjamin has run so well, so fast, that he finishes in 46.17s, 53 hundredths less than a world record that, if Warholm did not exist, he would have beaten him, and everyone would now talk about him, and not the blond Norwegian who became famous first by putting on the model face of Edvald Munch, the depressing painter of The Scream, when, in 2017 he won his first World Cup, and he repeated in 2019, in Doha that it was also an oven, like Tokyo. And the third, the young Brazilian Alison dos Santos, as if sucked into by the impossible rhythm that was developing next to him – he ran down 7th Street, Warholm’s favorite, who called her lucky seven because the best of his life always happened to him there, and this time, demonstrating the stupidity of superstitions, he ran through six, with Benjamin inside, in five, a good hare-, he approached his long stride and his burned face Since at the age of 10 he accidentally spilled a frying pan of boiling oil on his body, to a mark also lower than 47s and lower than Young’s record in Barcelona, 46.72s, a new Latin American record. Never in a race has there been such a resounding takedown of such a notable brand.
“I have been asked many times about the perfect race and I answered that it did not exist. Well, this is the closest I’ve ever been to her, ”the Norwegian athlete said, already a bit serene. “This is crazy. It is by far the best moment of my career. I’ve been training like crazy for this. I had a hard time sleeping the night before because I had butterflies in my stomach. It was a feeling that I thought I would no longer have when I got older, but I did. “
Six Olympic finals have passed since the Young of Barcelona 92. For the first time, in the morning of humidity disturbed by the previous rain, the absent breeze, the heat, of the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, 31 degrees, 73% humidity according to the sheet results officer. On August 3, 2021, at 12:20 in Tokyo (5:20 in the morning in Spain where dawn is still far away) a man fell below 47s in the 400m hurdles. Mad Viking Karsten Warholm. And the world is left with its mouth open, without hiccups. Like the kid from Ulsteinvik trained by old Leif Olav Alnes who spends his free time building with Lego. And a heart to a thousand.
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