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Karsten Warholm clears new hurdle to get to world track and field championships

Karsten Warholm

TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 03: Karsten Warholm of Team Norway reacts after finishing first in the Men’s 400m Hurdles Final on day eleven of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 03, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

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Karsten Warholm, the Olympic champion and world record holder in the 400m hurdles, called the five weeks since he suffered a small right hamstring muscle tear “a very intense ride.”

Warholm bids to become the first man or woman to win three consecutive world championships in the event in Eugene, Oregon, starting with heats July 16. But he also acknowledged the unknown.

He raced just once so far in 2022, and it wasn’t much of a race. He stopped after one hurdle at a Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco, on June 5.

Minutes afterward, he said it was probably a cramp. Turned out to be a tear -- “quite small,” he said Friday -- and he couldn’t do much for four or five days. Over the next month, the Norwegian took steps in recovery. From the pool to two different types of treadmills to the track. From flats to spikes. From clearing low hurdles to moving them up higher. He said “the damage is now healed.”

“I’ve really had to be smart and to do the right things and try not to get setbacks because I didn’t have time for that,” he said. “So it’s been difficult, but at the same time, also, it started a fire inside of me that I hope I will be able to use in Eugene, if my hamstring can take it.”

That if has Warholm wondering. To run the 400m hurdles at his level -- breaking the world record twice last year, including taking it way down to 45.94 seconds in Tokyo -- takes a special kind of exertion.

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“I think I’m in good shape, and all that work done before I got the injury, but for now, if my hamstrings can’t take the power that it takes to run, I have a big problem,” said Warholm, whose injured right leg is his trail leg when hurdling. “We go flat out when we run the finals. And that is where it becomes difficult, I think.

“I have been going, say, 96 percent [in training] and haven’t felt anything. So I don’t know what’s between there [and 100 percent]. And that is what I’m going to find out the days coming up to the championships, but I’m very focused on doing all the things right, because every day counts in the rehab. So that’s where we’re at right now.”

Warholm might not have the luxury to downshift and still win gold. American Rai Benjamin and Brazilian Alison dos Santos became the second- and third-fastest men in history in the epic Olympic final. This year, Benjamin has run 47.04 and dos Santos 46.80. Those times are far off Warholm’s world record, but outside of last year’s Olympic final, nobody has broken 46.70.

Reflecting after Tokyo, Warholm told himself that he would be satisfied with his career if that Olympic final was the peak at age 25.

“But, you know, I’m a greedy bastard,” he said. “I want more.”

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