Warholm and Benjamin set to continue tit-for-tat battle for 400m hurdles supremacy

Adding a Olympic 400m hurdles gold to his two world titles would be the crowning achievement for Norwegian phenom Karsten Warholm. 

Picture by 2019 Getty Images

Armed with the world record, the Norwegian is raring to roar in what is likely to be one of the most anticipated events on the track at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

The last three years have been dominated by the buzz over who will be the first of the new generation one-lap hurdlers to break one of the longest standing track records.

Kevin Young's world record from Barcelona 1992 survived multiple onslaughts for nearly three decades, but one sensed a ground shift since 2018.

Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba set the hunt in motion when he became only the second athlete after Young to dip below 47 seconds over the one-lap barriers when he clocked 47.98 in Paris in 2018.

The following year the sub-47 seconds club gained two new members, with Warholm and U.S. sensation Rai Benjamin breaching the barrier in the same race at the 2019 Diamond League final in Zurich -- Warholm first with 46.92, Benjamin following behind him in 46.98.

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Picture by 2019 Getty Images

Tit-for-tat battle

The race sparked a tit-for-tat battle over Young's dust-gathered record while Samba seemed to have faded in the rearview mirror despite breathing life into the assault on the mark.

Warholm's stock has been on the rise since his shock victory at the London 2017 World Championships, where he led from start to finish. Two years later, he underscored his status as the premier 400m hurdler in the world, beating Benjamin to the line at the Doha World Championships.

Warholm continued to chip away at his personal best and edged closer to the world record, clocking 46.87 in Stockholm in 2020.

Benjamin then fired off a warning shot at the U.S. Olympic trials at the end of June 2021, leap frogging Warholm to become the second-fastest man of all time over the barriers with a blistering 46.83.

But Benjamin's favourite tag for Tokyo 2020 and his lead in the race to the world record proved to be fleeting.

READ | Karsten Warholm: "I want to compete every day"

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Picture by 2017 Getty Images

Pièce de resistance

Warholm produced his pièce de resistance a week later when he raced into the record books clocking 46.70 to relegate Young to second place on the world all-time list.

Now, a month after his record-breaking run, Warholm will be lining up at his second Olympic Games, where he will renew his rivalry with Benjamin.

"Your competitors push you, of course, but I have been sticking to our plan and focusing on Tokyo, and I am still going to focus on Tokyo, but it's very nice for the confidence to break the world record," Warholm told World Athletics.

"We are here to entertain, and these duels and head-to-heads, they are going to be something for everybody to remember.

"It might take another world record to win the Olympics," he added. "There are such a lot of great guys out there at the moment who will all be aiming to do it and win gold. I am happy that there is such great competition."

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Picture by 2020 Getty Images

More in the tank

The rivalry from the last two years suggests the assault on the world record will continue unabated. The only difference is that it is now in the hands of Warholm, and he has now become the hunted.

The prospect of Warholm and Benjamin lining up in the final at the Olympic Games has athletics fans rubbing their hands with glee.

Benjamin will be looking to take his turn in the continuous game of tit-for-tat, and there is no better place to stake his claim than at Tokyo 2020.

I know I can run 46-low right now if I really tried, and that is no disrespect to anyone one.

Missing out on breaking Young's world record by 0.05 at the U.S. Olympic trials, Benjamin rued the missed opportunity but suggested that he had taken a cautious approach to first secure his place in the Games.

Benjamin said he believed he could push the boundaries of what many may believe possible in the event.

“I know I can run 46-low right now if I really tried, and that is no disrespect to anyone one,” Benjamin said after his race.

“I think there is a lot more in the tank, and I felt really strong coming home. My main goal was not to go break a world record I just wanted to make the team, and 46.8 was just a result of that.”

READ | Five things to know about Rai Benjamin

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