Unique talent, hard training and conscious choices: Karsten Warholm’s pathway to international success
September 13, 2019
One of the greatest favorites in the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championship is 23-year-old Karsten Warholm, who was born and raised in Ulsteinvik – a village with 6,000 inhabitants on the West Coast of Norway. There are several reasons for Warholm’s favorite role in the 400-meter hurdle, for example he became World Champion two years ago in London and last year he won the European gold medal in Berlin at the distance. However, the main reason is that the young Norwegian at the IAAF Diamond League in Zurich in mid-August ran at the best time of the year in the world – 46.92 seconds, which is the new European record. The time is also the 2’nd fastest in the world ever and the world record of 46.78 seconds set by American Kevin Young back in 1992 could very well be improved at the 2019 World Championship in Doha, where Abderrahman Samba of Qatar and Rai Benjamin of the United States will push Warholm to the last meters. Warhol’s performance and development curve has also meant that he is among Norway’s absolute greatest medal candidates at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, together with the Ingebrichtsen-brothers.
From decathlon to specialization – 400 meter hurdles
Already in the spring of 2013, the first sign of Karsten Warholm’s unique talent showed itself at the Norwegian Youth Championships. Warholm was registered and won 8 disciplines over 3 days – triple jump, 60-meter hurdles, 400-meters, height jump, 60-meters, 200-meters, long jump and the relay – and in 6 of the disciplines he set new Norwegian records. Later in the year, he also became the youth World champion in decathlon and a unique international career could really take off. During adolescence, Warholm’s versatility was unique and until 2014 Warholm participated in both decathlon and specific disciplines such as long jump, hurdles and 400-meters. Warholm’s weakest performance in decathlon was the throwing disciplines: Shot put, discus throw and javelin throw. “Karsten has always had a very great talent and the training in decathlon during the childhood and adolescence laid a very solid training basic. In addition, he has always wanted to train to progress. He has a strong belief in his own abilities and he has an exceptional ability to push himself, so that he fully exploits his potential, ”says Hanne Haugland, OLT coach who has followed Warhol’s development for a number of years and is today contact person between the “Olympiatoppen” – the Norwegian elite sports organization – and “Team Warholm”. In 2015 Warholm moved from Ulsteinvik to Oslo, where he began a collaboration with the very competent and experienced coach – 62-year-old Leif Olav Alnes. This collaboration has been of great value and significance to Warholm’s impressive career over the past four years. Hanne Haugland puts it this way: “When Karsten, together with Leif Olav Alnes, decided to focus 100% on the 400-meter hurdles, quality and competence in targeted training led to great progress in a very short time. Karsten got great benefit from Leif Olav’s vast experience from strength training and biomechanics and Leif Ola got the pleasure of training an athlete who was willing to focus 100%. It has been the perfect match between a 100% dedicated athlete and a 100% dedicated coach who has led to the world class results,” says Haugland.
Unconventional choices and priorities
Warholm and Alnes have also made a number of conscious and unconventional choices. Among other things, Karsten Warholm has chosen to train exclusively with girls: Amalie Iuel, Elisabeth Slettum and Solveig Hernandez – all hurdle-runners of the same age as Warholm. The daily training takes place in Vålerengas Vallhall, Bislett Arena and at the Olympiatoppens training center at Sognsvann, where “Team Warholm” with Leif Olav Alnes supplemented by assistant coach Andreas Thorkildsen is responsible for the training. The daily training load is very large – often 6-8 hours – and especially Alne’s strong motivation, extreme systematics and creativity combined to using unconventional training tools has been of great benefit to Warholm’s development. In addition, the team also collaborates with the experts of Olympiatoppen on dietary guidance, testing, and other factors that are critical to international top performance. Warholm greatly appreciates the informal conversations with the three girls, also on topics that are far from the world of athletics. “My training mates are by no means my competitors and the three girls help create a purposeful and serious atmosphere in our training group, but where there is also space for humor and fun between us” Warholm has spoken to Norwegian media about the unconventional choice of training mates.
Quality in the daily training – rather than prize money at international competitions
Another unconventional choice made by Warholm and Alnes is not to take part of competitions outside Europe, also at the expense of the very big money associated with participation and victories in the Diamond League events. Of course, Warholm likes to compete, but it is actually the daily training that he values most. He has stated to Norwegian TV that “… I find extreme pleasure in developing and that development usually happens in training. Competitions are important to gain a little extra, but training is the crucial basis. For me – and this may sound like a cliche – money is far from any driving force. I have never spent my time and energy on athletics to make a lot of money. I only set out to present – not to make money in the individual races. Money is the driving force for many top athletes, but I would like to be a kind of counterpoint to this attitude, “Warholm says, and continues:” When I get offers for money, I don’t say no – it will be too stupid. But for me, delivering performance on the field is far more valuable. The joy of sports comes first”. This attitude has also meant that “Team Warholm” deselects a number of international events in Asia, Oceania and the United States. “Traveling around the world is very demanding and you usually lack sleep, rhythm and rest after such trips. We have therefore selected few important international competitions during the season – and most of them in Europe. For me it is incredibly important that I look forward to the competitions that I have to participate in – so my motivation is top notch,”concludes World Cup and Olympic favorite Karsten Warholm.