Karsten Warholm reveals success strategy: "Greed is good"

Norway's 400m hurdles world champion is hungry for more titles, but wouldn't be where he is without veteran coach and "best friend" Leif Olav Alnes

By Nicklas Vinde

Reigning world 400m hurdles champion Karsten Warholm sees himself as the Gordon Gekko of the track.

The Norwegian told IAAF's Spikes, "I live by the words of Wall Street movie character Gordon Gekko. He says 'Greed is good'.

"Yes, of course you need to be happy and let the moment sink in when something great happens, but at the same time I’m very thoughtful about striving for more.

"I want to wake up and I want to be greedy again and have more." - Karsten Warholm.

Pushing Warholm to get the very best out of himself is his coach Leif Olav Alnes, the man he calls his "best friend".

The men's 400m hurdles looks set to be one of the hottest events on the track over the coming years with no fewer than three athletes looking capable of breaking the world record.

The three had avoided each other for most of 2019 until the Zurich Diamond League Final when Warholm clocked 46.92s, the second fastest time in history, to edge out Rai Benjamin.

The American's 46.98s placed him joint-third on the all-time list with last year's world leader Abderrahman Samba and Ed Moses.

"It was crazy. I knew that I would do a good time but this race and with this new PB, it's just amazing and still the best will come." - Karsten Warholm after his 400m hurdles win in the Zurich Diamond League Final

The friendship behind the success

Alnes was set to retire as a coach when Warholm approached him in early 2016.

At that stage, the youngster had decided he needed a "new training environment" despite winning silver medals at the 2015 European Junior Championships in the decathlon and the 400m.

Now 63, Alnes' view has long been that normal training produces normal results. So he trains his charges to extremes.

That approach paid swift dividends.

Within months, Warholm had reached the European final of the 400m hurdles and qualified for the semi-finals of that event at Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

A year later in London, he became Norway's first male world champion on the track.

Karsten Warholm becomes world champion

But there was no time to rest or celebrate with his team stepping up his workload to make him a sub-48 hurdler.

Alnes told NRK that they increased his training program by over 10 percent to around 30 hours per week:

"Karsten can take more now, but we will slow down if we can see that he can’t take it. But if he endures the hard training, we will keep pushing."

The hard work paid off as Warholm went on to take the European title last August in a new Norwegian record of 47.64s.

At home, his achievements were almost overshadowed by those of Jakob Ingebrigtsen who completed the 1500m and 5000m double in Berlin.

Like Warholm, Ingebrigtsen and his two elder brothers Henrik and Filip also undergo strenuous training regimes.

While the Ingebrigtsens are trained by their father, Gjert, Warholm also has a close relationship with his coach.

Speaking to Spikes, he commented, "If you invest 10 years of your life racking up all these training hours, you need to be friends.

"Our relationship is like a typical boys’ friendship. We mock each other, we have a lot of fun together, and we share the same humour.

"It’s like we’re the same age mentally – whatever age that is, whether it’s five years or 50, that’s up to you to decide." - Karsten Warholm tells IAAF's Spikes about his friendship with coach Leif Olav Alnes

No room for complacency

Warholm calls Alnes "a nerd who is also socially gifted", combining his training know-how with communication skills.

Before this year's European Indoors in Glasgow, Alnes knew exactly what buttons to press to get a response.

Warholm said, "I was running quite well, and I was feeling okay, but he came over to me and he said, 'Karsten, if you want to run 45.0, this is not good enough. I just want to tell you, because I think you can do better and we need to be sharper than this if you want to achieve our goals.'

"I really appreciate the honesty, because I know it’s coming from love. It’s not him trying to push me down, it’s him trying to lift me higher. When I am not fulfilling my potential he can be very harsh about that." - Karsten Warholm to Spikes about coach Leif Olav Alnes

Having eventually persuaded Alnes that he could run in Glasgow, Warholm wanted to announce his entry in a humorous way.

With the pair on the same wavelength, the veteran coach provided some of the props for a series of photos mocking him being held hostage.

"Leif is an agreeable type. Now I get to run in the European Championships! Completely voluntary." - Karsten Warholm on social media on his coach 'allowing' him to compete in Glasgow

The decision turned out to be a good one with Warholm taking victory in 45.05 seconds.

Their relationship may be close, but Warholm is under no illusions as to how hard he has to work and that he needs to be able to respond positively to criticism.

He said, "Tough love is the perfect way to describe our relationship. I like it that way. Last year he told me I was too fat and I said,'You are too fat as well'. So both of us lost weight.

"He started eating a lot of vegetables and almost no meat, and I started to not eat as much candy and drink less beer – it worked out pretty well for both of us."

Back in November 2017, he claimed that his relentless training regime gave him the edge against his rivals.

He said then, "I always find a reason when racing that I am the one who deserves to win. The other seven guys in the race will also feel like they deserve it. I often think back to the hours of suffering I have put into training as the reason I deserve to win."

Now he has adopted a more fraternal view of his fellow competitors, particularly after Samba's feats from last year.

Speaking to Spikes he said, "Admittedly, my shoulders are a little lower now than they were last year. I felt like everybody was on my neck last year, always talking about Abderrahman Samba. I was a little tired hearing about it, but at the same time, it has pushed me to do even more.

"Everybody wants to win, of course, but at the same time we help each other push to another level and for the event and for track and field it’s really good." - Karsten Warholm tells Spikes about his 400m hurdles rivals

A surprise world champ

Few outside athletics' inner circle had heard of Warholm before he took gold aged 21 at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London's Olympic Stadium.

His rise to the summit was extraordinary given it was his first full year as a dedicated 400m hurdles runner, a testament to Alnes' influence.

His first sub-50 400m hurdles came in June 2016 and, 14 months later, he was world champion.

The feat was a surprise to most of the 60,000 in the crowd but not to those close to him.

The youngster from Ulsteinvik, a town of just 6,000 inhabitants on Norway's west coast - beat Yasmani Copello and Rio gold medallist Kerron Clement to take gold.

"When I crossed the finish line, it felt as if I had just seen a ghost." Karsten Warholm to talking to NRK after his World Championship triumph

The future

Warholm, Samba and Benjamin are operating on a different level at present as the only men to break 48 seconds this season.

The big question is who will come out on top at Tokyo 2020.

The other question is which one of the three will break the world record of 46.78s set by Kevin Young at Barcelona 1992.

Kevin Young on his way to the 400m hurdles world record at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics

Warholm would have come very close to 47-dead in London, but stuttered into the ninth hurdle and cleared the final obstacle by a long way, losing some speed on the flat.

When asked about Young's world record after running 47.12s, he said, "Oh my... I'm almost scared to think about it but we're getting closer and closer so who knows.

"I feel like there is more to work with so who knows what's going to happen. The sky's the limit."