Karsten Warholm: ‘I’m the world’s biggest hypocrite over super spikes’

    Karsten Warholm doesn’t hold anything back. On the track. Off the track. It’s the same. Full send. No filters. Always all in. He’s the guy who obliterated the 400m hurdles world record by nearly a second at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, fending off Rai Benjamin in a race regarded as one of the greatest in history. Minutes later, he called out Benjamin’s Nike super spikes as “bullshit’, because he believed their foam acted like a trampoline and gave his great rival an unfair advantage.

    For the next two years, the 28-year-old Norwegian continued to double down by wearing spikes with “bullshit” written on them. But on a shiny day in Paris, where he will defend his Olympic title this summer, Warholm has a confession. He has changed his mind.

    “I’m the biggest hypocrite in the whole world,” he says, a little wistfully. “It’s always like when you take that leap forward, it’s impossible to go back. When you look at the world today, it’s impossible to avoid technology. I’m an old school kind of guy, so it takes time. But there are also some good things about it.”

    There are caveats. But Warholm accepts that, just as with the move from cinder to modern tracks, change is inevitable. “I’ll always stand for what I said in the beginning: the comparison aspect is getting weaker and weaker,” he says.

    “With, say, Jonathan Edwards – you can’t compare his equipment to that of today. You’re seeing an inflation in personal bests. But at the same time, it has created a lot of interest that was lacking in the sport. I see some good and bad. Right now, when there is an even playing field, the positives weigh heavier than the negatives.”

    Warholm’s confession comes as he prepares to run in Puma’s new super spike, the Berserker, over 400m hurdles for the first time in Thursday’s Oslo Diamond League meeting. The name is unusual, the design even more so. The front plate of the shoe is oversized, has very deep ridges, and, bizarrely, a toe extension at the end of it. Crucially, it also has foam Warholm believes is very fast and bouncy.

    “Puma has the best formula in making foam now,” says Warholm, who ran a low-key 300m hurdles in the shoe last week in 33.28sec – 0.02 off his world best. “I’d be surprised if anyone has a better energy return. The carbon plate technology is better than it was in Tokyo and we’ve trained my body to run in these shoes. I’m struggling to see what we’re lacking. Without going into details, I see some things I’d have improved in my opponents’ shoes.”

    Karsten Warholm runs a world record 45.94sec against Rai Benjamin in the Tokyo Olympics. Photograph: Gallo Images/Getty Images

    So how does the weird design work? “When you land, you want the foam to compress and you want your calf to move over the centre of gravity and then release,” he says. “The ridges are helping that movement. It shows me you can take the technology and make it even more extreme.”

    Sceptics are yet to be convinced and have even suggested the toe flap could lead to Warholm tripping over. His response? To post an amusing video on Instagram, insisting he and Puma had done their research and showing him using the toe flap to open a bottle of beer before drinking from it.

    With the Olympics two months away, things are about to get serious. The Brazilian Alison dos Santos, who won the 2022 world championship when Warholm was recovering from a torn hamstring, has already run a lightning quick 46.86 this season. While Benjamin opened his campaign with a staggering 46.64.

    So could Warholm’s 45.94 world record be under threat this summer? “There are no guarantees. I’ve been saying before: ‘Now I’ll go to this race to break the world record’, and it never happened.

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    “Tokyo was not about breaking the world record, it was about winning Olympic gold. But it turned out to be a fantastic race, one for the history books. That’s probably how world records are broken. It’s the perfect day, with the perfect opponents and perfect equipment.”

    But gold is all that matters to Warholm. That much was made clear at the Eugene world championships in 2022, when he still went hell for leather from the gun despite not being fully fit and came seventh.

    Karsten Warholm elebrates after winning gold in last year’s world championships. Photograph: Jean-Christophe Bott/EPA

    Would a more conservative approach have given him a chance of bronze behind Dos Santos and Benjamin? “It’s not interesting to me,” he says, shaking his head. “I want the gold. And if I’m not going to fight for the gold, I don’t want to fight. Sometimes when you fight for the gold, you will get silver or bronze, but it’s always going to be important for me to fight for the win. I don’t want to go for silver.”

    Warholm believes his new spikes, which carry the hashtag #BS down the side, will give him the edge at the Olympics. But he concedes they raise an interesting dilemma too. “I’m 100% sure I have the advantage now,” he says. “Is it fair? That’s another question because if I have an advantage it’s not fair.”

    It is not a quandary he will be mulling over in the final 50 metres in Paris. Not with gold and glory on the line, and Benjamin and Dos Santos on his tail.

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