Karsten Warholm: “There is a moment when you decide to be a sheep or a wolf”

Since he won his first race, at the age of seven, wearing jeans, until now, two decades have passed. In that time, the Norwegian Karsten Warholm (27 years old) has become a legend and an icon of world athletics. European, world and Olympic champion, no one in history has run the 400m hurdles faster than him (45.94). He was named the best athlete in the world in 2020 by World Athletics (International Federation). Seeing him evolve on the track is a spectacle. As he himself states, you have to be a wolf if you want to win. He attends AS after having spent a few weeks in our country in a ‘training camp’, during a stage of his preparation, and before facing the World Cup in Budapest.

Karsten Warholm, with the light of his 400 hurdles world record.
Karsten Warholm, with the light of his 400 hurdles world record.ANDREW BOYERSREUTERS

-You were in Nerja carrying out a preparation phase. Why there?

-I like the place, the weather, the training tracks and the people. The truth is that it is a place that I love.

-The weather will be a little better than in Norway…

-There’s no doubt. We Norwegians like the sun, there isn’t much there and you have plenty of it.

-Haaland in Marbella, Ingebrigtsen in Sierra Nevada, you in Nerja. Why do your country’s elite athletes like Andalusia so much?

-Although it has many attractions, what we are looking for the most is that there is a good climate, that it be stable and have good facilities to train. That is the main reason.

-You were born in Ulsteinsvik, a very different place from Nerja. What is your town like?

-I like a lot. I can’t say anything bad about the place where I was born and raised. It has about 8,000 inhabitants. It is located on the west coast of Norway, there is a lot of nature around and it is beautiful but the weather changes very quickly. We are used to rain and wind. For the last eight years I’ve lived in Oslo, which is where my coach is, but my parents and the rest of the family still live in Ulsteinvik and it’s always nice to come home every once in a while.

-Tell us about your beginnings in athletics. Is the story true that a friend invited you to a race and you, without preparing yourself and running in jeans, won?

-Yes, it totally is. It’s a nice story. Every year my club organizes a race for boys up to 12 years old called Karstenløpet’ to motivate boys and girls to run like I did a long time ago. That was my first race.

-How old were you then?

-Seven years.

-He was still very young but you can see that he liked it, when did you decide to seriously dedicate yourself to athletics?

I don’t remember exactly, but I’m sure it wasn’t around that time. So I would train and compete because I thought it was fun and I would meet my friends. Plus, that way I had something to do after school.

-Tell us something about your family. Did your parents have any relationship with sports?

-They have always liked sports but at an amateur level, as fun and a healthy lifestyle. My mother was an athlete in her youth and my father played soccer. Maybe that’s why they have always supported me and my sisters in our sports. Now I am the only one in the family who is still active at a good level. My mother is also my manager.

-When did you realize you had the skills to become a world star?

-The truth is that it is something that I never considered. I trained and competed because I liked it and getting good results motivated me more. It was quite a process. Surely, winning the world championship in 2017, in London, was a turning point in my career as a professional athlete.

Karsten Warholm, in the Stockholm Diamond League.
Karsten Warholm, in the Stockholm Diamond League.FREDRIK PERSSONAFP

-Why did you move to Oslo?

-When I was beginning to stand out, a person from the Federation told me that there was an ideal coach for me. That was Leif Olson, a veteran, 66 years old now, who has taught me a lot and has known how to stop me when I have been very impulsive. He is calm, experienced and wise. We have consolidated a great relationship during these years.

-You have won the most important gold medals in Games, World and European Games, but in the Eugene World Cup, in the United States (July 2022), you were seventh, something unusual. Did that result hurt you?

-I am very competitive and I always look for victory but on that occasion I must say that I had an injury the previous year, at the beginning of the season. I wasn’t sure if I could race at a good level in 2022. For this reason, although it hurts to lose, for me it was already a victory to be able to be in Oregon in the world championship. After that final, a few weeks later, in August, I was European champion in Munich and that is a medal that I highly value.

-Being always the favorite adds more pressure?

-If you want to achieve your goals and dreams in life you have to learn to live with pressure. I often say that there comes a time when you have to decide if you want to be a sheep or a wolf and you better be a wolf at the starting line if you really want to win.

“If you want to achieve your goals and dreams in life you have to learn to live with pressure.”


-Is your success more the result of talent or work?

-Of the second, without a doubt. I see many athletes who have more natural talent than me but I have worked very hard for many years to make up for that. I give everything that is necessary to be able to win.

-In 400 hurdles you have few challenges left to achieve. Do you plan another distance in the future?

-Don’t know. 800 meters is a distance that appeals to me. If I need new challenges maybe I’ll give it a try. Sometimes I train two-minute sets with one-minute rest intervals, so it’s kind of like that.

“I can be training for eight hours very focused and then go days without washing the dishes at home”


-And what would you never do?

-Marathon. With complete security. I’m not made for it. I think the longest distance I’ve covered is 2,000 meters, at school, and it took me more than 7 minutes. I’m bad at it.

Do you have a defect or bad habit?

-To be late. I’m trying to correct it because I know it annoys a lot of people. I am also lazy outside of athletics. I can be training for eight hours very focused and then, at home, go days without washing the dishes.

-Do you take the World Cup in Budapest as an opportunity for revenge after Eugene?

-It is a new opportunity to win, which is what I always pursue. No more.

-You donate money to various NGOs. Do you feel that you are helping to improve the world?

I do it out of conviction. I think it’s a good thing to help those who need it most.

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