DOHA, Qatar – There was no way Karsten Warholm of Norway would dare be disappointed. He cleared all 10 hurdles, beat all seven guys, won his second straight gold medal at world championships and remained undefeated in 2019 – a perfect 9 for 9.
That world record, however, remains unbroken, just as it has after every 400-meter hurdle race run since 1992, four years before Warholm was born.
In a race hyped as the one that might finally send that 27-year-old record tumbling, Warholm closed out Monday night’s action by completing the loop in 47.42 seconds – .64 seconds off the mark still held by Kevin Young – to beat out two others who also had sub-47 times on their resume: Rai Benjamin of the United States and Abderrahman Samba, a Saudi-born hurdler who now competes for the host country of Qatar.
Warholm joined Edwin Moses, Felix Sanchez and Kerron Clement as back-to-back winners of the grueling event, yet still, he couldn’t avoid the question of why that record still stands.
“To be honest, I don’t care,” Warholm said. “If I’d won the gold medal in a minute, I’d be happy. I don’t go out with the intention to break the world record. I go out to have fun and win the race.”
In any other country, a hometown bronze medal the likes of which Samba won would’ve brought a cascade of cheers from the stands. But by the time the adopted Qatari had reeled in Kyron McMaster of the Ivory Coast over the last 50 meters to win what could be the host’s only medal of these championships, most of the diminutive crowd had already cleared out.
Then again, anyone expecting routine on Day 4 of this track meet was in for a surprise.
The best sprint of the day may have very well come from the Swedish discus champion, Daniel Stahl, who burst out to the middle of the field after his final throw, then later traversed a hurdle or two down the backstretch while draping his country’s flag behind him.
“I wanted to show people that big guys are not just heavy and strong. We can also run,” Stahl said.
The second-best celebration came from the Ethiopian fans – one of the few contingents that has made it en masse to Doha, where plenty of good seats have been available all week. Two full, flag-waving sections in the southeast corner of the stadium went crazy when Muktar Edris won the men’s 5,000 for his second straight title.
Later, over in that same corner, 18-year-old high jumper Yaroslava Mahuchikh of Ukraine secured the silver medal and celebrated as though she’d won.
After she cleared 2.04 meters, she grabbed Ukraine’s yellow and blue flag and started parading around the corner of the stadium, then put her sweats on to call it a night. Having already jumped a personal best, which was also an under-20 world record, she didn’t even bother going to the next height. That handed the win to Russian Mariya Lasitskene, who had cleared the same height in fewer tries to secure her country’s second gold medal of the championships – although she is officially a neutral athlete because Russia is banned for doping.
“I was very happy to have silver,” Mahuchikh explained. “I had a personal best. I’m young, and 2 meters and 6, it’s maybe (something for) later.”
There was guaranteed to be a new winner in the 800 meters with Caster Semenya sitting this one out over the controversial IAAF decision that would have required her to medically reduce her natural testosterone level in order to compete.
That the winner would not be American Ajee Wilson – or pretty much anyone in the field other than Uganda’s Halimah Nakaayi – came as quite a shock.
To everyone but Nakaayi, that is.
“I expected it because it has been a long preparation,” said Nakaayi, who hadn’t finished better than third at any international meet this year and who didn’t make it out of the semifinals at the 2017 worlds. “Every competition, I’ve been learning how to race.”
Same for Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech, the steeplechase winner, who had been in the lead pack two years ago but missed the curve leading to the water jump and had to double back, costing her precious time and energy in a race eventually won by America’s Emma Coburn.
Chepkoech learned her lesson, and won this time, in 8 minutes, 57.84 seconds – 4.51 seconds ahead of Coburn, who took silver.
“I was disappointed for missing the barrier, falling down, but it was only the second time I had run the race,” Chepkoech said of the 2017 mistake. “When we practiced at home, we didn’t have a water pit. But, finally, I got it straight.”
In the night’s finale, Warholm came in as a favorite, but one who certainly had to watch his back – racing against the other two men to crack the 47-second barrier and knowing that in the world of hurdles, anything can happen.
Starting in Lane 4, he made up the lag over the guys in the outside lanes about halfway through the race, then powered down the homestretch, before crossing the line and collapsing on the track.
Not too long afterward, he was wearing his Viking horns, same as he did in 2017. But that time, he was in a state of shock after crossing the line. This time, he acted like he’d been there before.
No way missing a record was going to ruin this night for him.
“I’m going to go back to the room with my coach, sit down, drink a Coke and talk about all the good things we’re doing,” Warholm said. “The best celebration is the feeling you get when you cross the finish line. That never changes.”
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