A conversation with Karsten Warholm
In less than a month, the best athletes in the world will meet in Monaco for the Herculis EBS 2020 Meeting. Among them, 2x World Champion Karsten Warholm. As he's preparing for this meeting, we gave him a call and catched up with him to talk about his quarantine, his training, bulding Legos and what his goals are now.
Matthieu: So, you’re currently in Norway, what’s the weather like in there? And how does it affect your preparation for a weather like what we have here?
K: Norway has been quite good. We just started to get some rain. I hope it will be warm in Monaco for the meeting though.
M: It should.
K: How is the wind there?
M: We don’t have wind here, which is why sprints aren’t that good clockwise.
K: So that’s awesome for the 400m Hurdles then.
M: What was the feeling like when you knew Monaco would host a 400m H?
K: To be honest, I’ve always wanted to run in Monaco because of the track. I know people have been running fast there before, and I’ve been training there too. It’s a nice stadium and I know I might be able to run even faster in it.
M: How’s your shape?
K: In Norway, we’ve been able to train very well, so my shape is actually good. I was hoping to get a chance to test myself, so when the opportunity came for Monaco, that was nice.
M: How did you train during the quarantine?
K: We have a small training group. It’s Amalie Iuel, Elisabeth (Slettum), Leif (his coach) and myself. There has been couple of weeks where we had issues with training facilities. Otherwise, we’ve also been able to train outside. Norway started to open up the places we train at quickly, and when the Bislett Games announced they would host the “Impossible Games”, they also opened the stadium track for us.
I could actually train more than if it was a normal season. Usually, I would be competing. That’s what makes it interesting, to see if that’s a good thing or a bad thing when we approach the meet (Monaco) in August.
M: Could this change the way you look at your preparation in the future?
K: For me it’s been an opportunity. I try to think that my goal is to always be better. Of course, you need to compete to become better but I believe training is the most valuable thing when it comes to getting to the next level. For us, it always has been about pushing the limits. I believe I could focus more on the few competitions that I get to run, and keep training in between these competitions.
The most interesting part to see is whether I can come straight to Monaco, as my second race of the year and deliver straight away. Personally, I believe that’s possible.
M: This year is a little particular because there’s no big championship.
K: There’s nothing to lose. And that’s what I also like about this upcoming meet. I might sound a little sissy, but I’ve won all the races last year, so when I come to Monaco, I can focus on the time, on the clock. You now get the chance to prepare in another way, go all in and try things you would not have dared in a regular season. And I love that!
M: How did this change the way you looked at things this year? Your goals? Were you like “I’m gonna focus on one particular goal like beating the WR”, or “Let’s just train and see what’s gonna happen”?
K: That’s an interesting question because I was really (really) looking forward to the Olympics this year. It’s one of the medals I don’t have. Once it was postponed and not an option anymore, I started thinking: “I’ve actually proven myself, people have seen what I’m capable of”. And I still love going to practice and try to become even better. So, for me the big thing was: “I’ve proven myself to other people, and this year can be about proving myself… to myself.”
It’s about pushing the limits and see how much better can I become if I get the time to do all the training I want to do and only run in a few competitions. Problems don’t exist, there are only solutions.
M: How do you approach this new situation?
K: It’s a nice test for everyone. We also have a chance to realize how lucky we are to do this in a normal world and to also realize all the things you can do with very few things. When I grew up in my hometown, I didn’t have any indoor facilities. During the winter, I would train at the beach because it was the only place without snow. When the tide was gone, the water would wash the snow away, and that’s where I could run.
We need to be creative, and always find new solutions.
M: You say the lane 7 is “where the magic happens”. Why is that?
K: Absolutely. It’s actually just because my coach, who is really careful, wanted me to run very far out of the bend because there is less impact on the body as the bend is wider, it’s not that hard. It’s also because he wants me to have a long career and try not to get injured. But of course, in championships you have got to run on the lane that you get and that is not a problem for me, but if I get to choose, I will always have lane 7. It has become a thing that I’m comfortable with.
M: Good. And what did you do when you couldn’t train? Did you get a lot of time to watch movies, to read books? What did you do?
K: There were a lot of movies but I have a thing that I love to do, and it’s building Lego. I built a lot of Lego during the pandemic and I had a good time doing that.
M: What did you build?
K: I built everything, I built Old Trafford or the Tower Bridge, the one in London. Now I’m building the new Lamborghini Lego. I built the Disney castle but, in the past, I built a lot of other things, Bugatti, Porsche.
M: Did you actually think at one point you would have an off season all year long? Or did you always have the hope that it will come back at some point?
K: I actually thought that I would have an off-season all year, except for the “Impossible Games”. I actually thought that the “Impossible Games” would be the only thing that I got just because I thought that it would be difficult. I thought that it would be because it was tough for the meet to go through, it is tough to get a meet going that is also safe because that’s in everyone’s interest that it’s going to be safe. But I love the guts. And that you guys are going to get this meet done and hopefully some others. Now I’m really happy. I was training and trying to invest because I was thinking that maybe there were going to be some competitions and that at the end of summer, I was going to be ready and if not, it’s still a good investment towards 2021 and hopefully towards the Olympics next year.
M: So, what is your schedule right now? You only have Monaco or do you have any other competitions that you plan to compete in?
K: Now I’m very locked in on Monaco, it’s the only thing I’m thinking about, but there’s also Stockholm, which is very close to where I live in Oslo and hopefully, I’m going there as well. I don’t think I will be running the hurdles there, I will probably be running the 400m flat, that’s what I’ve been thinking about. Time will show. We also have Nationals in September and there are also Diamond League Meetings in 400 hurdles so yes, time will show. In Norway, we are very fortunate to have a good situation now, so we are able to travel at least in Europe so I will take the competitions that I feel like I can perform well at.
M: You talked about how creative people needed to be in this situation. We’ve been actually working hard to do a meet as normal as possible when other people try to be creative. We’ve had the Impossible Games, Pole Vaulting in backyards.
K: I loved that.
M: We’ve actually worked to do something as normal as possible when everybody got creative and try to do something else in this situation.
K: Well, this Monaco meet is exactly what we need now because these Impossible Games and Inspiration Games were really nice at the beginning but people don’t want to see me running 300m hurdles or running distance that are not even official. We can’t just keep on doing these things the whole year. For me, Monaco is the most special meet to come to, because it’s the only thing that we get this year that is normal. That is what I want and I think that it’s also what the spectators want.
M: We work in this way, we strive to get spectators for the meet.
K: Wait. There will be spectators as well?
M: There should be, yeah. Up to 5 000.
K: Wow. That’s awesome, that’s great news.
M: The way we are working, there are two different systems. One for the spectators, which is one management totally different and the other one is for the athletes and the competition. The way the meet is going to work is that athletes and coaches will never meet with the public. For example, you’re going to warm-up, then you’re going to go with your opponents to the call-room on the grass and your coach is going to go the same way but he’s not going to go in the stands, but he’s going to go around the stadium through a special door. Like that, there won’t be any contact.
K: It’s so cool that you guys can have spectators there. Is 5 000 around one third of the stadium?
M: Kind of, yes. The maximum attendance for a football game in Monaco is up to 16 000.
K: It’s going to be special as well because until this point, no sporting event has had spectators. It’s going to be crazy.
M: In a recent Diamond League interview, you talked about doing a documentary / film. Where are you with that?
K: We are working on it. It’s airing in late-August, early-September. We are still shooting something for it. It was an idea we came with when the Corona situation began because we had a lot of historic footage from 2015 all the way until now with the WC Gold and everything. We have been filming a lot of training during the pandemic actually and a lot of things that were happening then and also somethings that we see back in retrospect. We are still working on that.
M: On that documentary series, who is doing that? Norway TV?
K: it’s the same broadcaster that is going to send your meet. It’s the national channel actually, it’s by far the biggest channel in Norway. When I ran in Doha, the final there, it was watched by 1.5 million people in Norway, and we are only 5 million people. So that is like over 25% watching it live. It’s crazy numbers.
M: What is life like for you when you’re in Norway?
K: Actually, in Norway track and field has become like really big. People love watching it and it’s mainly because of myself, the Ingebrigtsen brothers and a lot of other people, as we’re getting very good results, we boost the interest of people for track and field here in Norway so you know when we walk out in the streets, they recognize us because people just love watching sports. Also, in the Bislett Games they have very heavy traditions. Norway has come to its pride again because Norwegian athletes have been getting good results so the people in Norway have been friendly, positive and cheering for us and I love that because in Norway mostly we have skiers and now we have summer sports and also, we have footballers who are starting to deliver. So, Norway has become a very very good sporting nation.
M: You were talking about other sports, are you close with Johannes Boe or Erling Haaland. Do you get to see each other in national awards or similar events?
K: About Erling Haaland, I never met him actually, but he seems like a great guy and a great footballer, hopefully I’ll get to meet him in the future. But yes, a lot of these other athletes I meet all the time because we have a top sport center in Oslo where many of these athletes meet and also as you were saying on these sporting galas and all those things we meet. And it’s a very small environment so it’s really nice to meet all these guys and get inspired by all the athletes from your own country who are doing big things.
M: How do you feel about that growing interest for the sport you and the Ingebrigtsens notably raised?
K: I hope that it’s inspirational, it’s a way of showing that it’s possible to do summer sports coming from the great winter country of Norway. I hope people find it inspirational because you know, we get a good exposure for all the summer sports. Summer sports are very big worldwide and I believe it’s great that we can inspire Norwegian kids and also hopefully grown-ups.
M: Did you always do track? Did you ski when younger or play football?
K: I’ve only played football besides track, that’s the only two things I did. You know I’m from the western Norway so we didn’t have that much snow there but yeah, football and track, that was my thing.
M: Last year, the third most represented country in the spectators in the stadium was Norway.
K: We just love watching live sports. You had the Ingebrigtsen last year, didn’t you?
M: Yes. Norwegians went straight from Lausanne to Monaco. A lot of people were on holidays here and they bought tickets to watch the meet.
K: It’s so cool. You know all of the Norwegian airlines are flying to Nice and a lot of people are coming over there so it’s really nice.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Matthieu FORTIN is a contributing writer for the Meeting Herculis EBS.