Karsten Warholm & The Greatest 400-Meter Hurdle Season Ever

No one has ever had a better year in the 400 hurdles

By Jonathan Gault
September 17, 2020

Karsten Warholm’s quest for the 400-meter hurdle world record may have come up short tonight in Rome. But in winning his fifth 400m hurdle race of 2020 — and his 12th in a row dating back to last season — he accomplished something arguably just as difficult: in a season that lasted barely a month, the 24-year-old Norwegian put together the greatest 400m hurdle campaign of all time.

Prior to 2020, no man had run 47.10 or faster more than once in a season. With his 47.07 at the Golden Gala Pietro Mennea in Rome, Warholm has now done it four times in the last 35 days. The average of Warholm’s top four performances this year — 47.03 — would rank as the #8 performance in history on its own.

The full tally:

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Date Venue Time All-time rank
August 14 Monaco 47.10 T-11th
August 23 Stockholm 46.87 2nd
September 8 Ostrava 47.62 T-92nd
September 13 Berlin 47.08 10th
September 17 Rome 47.07 9th

Warholm also added a world best in the 300 hurdles (33.78) in his first race of the outdoor season in Oslo back on June 11. 

Thursday may have been Warholm’s final race of the season (it was his last international race, though he may still compete at the Norwegian championships this weekend), and while he was unable to break Kevin Young’s world record of 46.78 from 1992, he was in a very good mood after his latest victory.

Warholm was very pleased with his 47.07 in Rome

“Of course, I am satisfied,” Warholm told meet organizers. “This is my third best time ever. I ran really low 47ers on a regular basis this year. I am very happy. This season has been a good experience for me. It is good fun for me coming here to Rome with the warm weather and no winds – unlike back home in Norway where it is cold now and rainy. 

“The world record? I am quite used to talk about it and I love it because it shows that I am in the right pace, that I am close. This year, I am getting a lot of [meet records], my average time is getting really good. I am really satisfied with being on that level. It feels good. 

“COVID-19? Despite everything, I feel we got a lot of good things out of this season. My focus was and always is: becoming better, staying injury-free and loving what I do. This is sports, it is a tough world.”

Part of what makes Warholm’s 2020 campaign so incredible is the margin of his victories. With fellow sub-47 men Rai Benjamin and Abderrahman Samba not racing on the circuit this year, Warholm had no one to push him in any race; until tonight, no one else had broken 49 seconds in 2020 (France’s Ludvy Vaillant ran 48.69 for second in Rome). Warholm, who likes to start in lane 7 or 8, had usually made up the stagger by hurdle two and was essentially racing the clock every time out.

But the Norwegian, who always begins his races by pounding his chest and screaming into the camera during pre-race introductions, brought his own energy every time out this year, and the results were spectacular.

There’s an argument to be made that, based on quantity rather than quality, Edwin Moses, who won 122 consecutive 400m hurdles races from 1977 to 1987, had a few seasons superior to Warholm’s 2020 campaign. In 1981, Moses won all 14 of his races (13 of them finals) and broke 48 seconds six times; in 1983, Moses was 18-for-18 (15 finals) and broke 48 seven times — (including a World Championship gold and a world record of 47.02 in Koblenz).

Samba also put together a season for the ages in 2018, going undefeated and breaking 48 in all nine of his finals — the most sub-48’s in a single year — with a best of 46.98.

But for absolute top-end quality, nothing compares to Warholm’s 2020 campaign. His season’s best of 46.87 is #2 in history, and his fourth-best time in 2020 (47.10) is faster than all but one of Moses’ times from his entire career (the same is true of Samba). Warholm’s ability to approach the upper limits of the event almost every time he stepped on the track in 2020 — particularly in a year in which he had no rivals to speak of and no championship to peak for — was truly remarkable.

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