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Norway's Karsten Warholm celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men's 400m hurdles final during the World Athletics Championships at the National Athletics Centre in Budapest on August 23, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Ulsteinvik, Norway: At the age of just seven, wearing jeans in a local street race in his home town of Ulsteinvik in Norway, Karsten Warholm won his first medal.

More followed and today a hundred or so adorn the childhood bedroom of the reigning European, world and Olympic 400m hurdles champion.

It is the brightest gold in a small shipyard town on the edge of the North Sea.

Warholm merits just a one-line mention on the town’s Wikipedia page and yet his exploits on the track are perhaps how future generations will remember Ulsteinvik.

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Norway's Karsten Warholm winning a local running competition in Ulsteinvik, Norway. Image Credit: AFP

The 28-year-old has genuinely won it all: three world championships, two European championships and an Olympic title in 2021 with a stunning world record time.

It all began one day in the summer of 2003.

Seven-year-old Karsten was convinced by a friend to take part in a race that the local athletics club was organising around the town hall.

“He turned up in jeans, without any sportswear, and crushed everyone. After that, he took up athletics,” his faithful friend Kristian Mork told AFP. “I also did athletics for years but because I lined up against Karsten, my list of achievements consists mainly of silver medals,” he laughs.

Treasure trove

In the family home just outside Ulsteinvik, the bedroom where seven-year-old Warholm hung his first medal has been transformed into a trophy room.

The Olympic gold from Tokyo, however, as well as one of the shoes he was wearing when he ran 45.94sec in the final to smash his own world record, are usually kept elsewhere.

That run in Tokyo which saw him become the first person to run under 46 seconds is one of the more astonishing in the history of the Games as he sliced 0.76sec off his previous world record, a stunning 1.63 per cent improvement.

But there is still room for more gold from the Paris Olympics.

“We always try to leave a little space ... just in case,” smiles Kristine Golin Haddal, Karsten’s mother and agent.

She and Warholm’s father Mikal have been front and centre of his development as an athlete.

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Karsten Warholm (left) and his friend Kristian Mork posing for a picture during a local running competition in Ulsteinvik, Norway. Image Credit: AFP

Kristine was a keen athlete in her youth, while Mikal played football. The result was that young Karsten kicked a ball one day and worked on his athletics the next.

Warholm made his breakthrough on the track when he was 15 at an unofficial national youth indoor championships in 2011.

In one weekend, he won five gold medals: long jump, high jump, 60m, 60m hurdles and 200m.

In the photos, he poses proudly, smiling behind his braces.

“He liked to try out different disciplines, to challenge himself, to see if he could handle this or that event,” recalls his mother.

He was a jack-of-all-trades, had an iron will and put in an enormous amount of training, both at school and in his spare time.

It was on an open-air track in the town, on the playground or along the beach that he clocked up the kilometres, in summer and winter alike.

“He trained all year round, often outside,” says his former high school sports teacher, Svein Ove Fylsvik.

“I’m not sure he always found it particularly fun but he did everything we agreed, come rain or shine.”

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Norway's Karsten Warholm poses with his medals after a competition in Trondheim, Norway, on March 13, 2011. Image Credit: AFP

Warholm effect

Hard work pays off. In 2013, in Donetsk, Warholm won the world junior championships in the octathlon, the youth equivalent of the decathlon, a discipline he concentrated on for a long time.

“He wasn’t a big fan of the 400m. Too tiring,” says Arve Hatloy, his youth coach.

“He continued to be versatile and dabbled in everything until he was 18, 19.”

But there was a drawback with the octathlon, and in particular the decathlon, as he looked to step up.

“He struggled to really excel in the combined events because he wasn’t very good at the javelin,” said a matter-of-fact Hatloy.

It was not until he moved to Oslo in 2015 that the future world record holder really concentrated on the 400m hurdles, under the guidance of his current coach, Leif Olav Alnes.

The rest will go down in athletics history.

Meanwhile, closer to home among the 9,000 or so inhabitants of Ulsteinvik and the surrounding area, the Warholm effect is evident.

The town track that he has pounded up and down thousands of times is due to be renovated, after which it will bear the name of their most illustrious citizen.

The local club, which once had a few dozen members, now has over 200.

Among them is 20-year-old hurdles specialist Lovise Skarbovik Andresen, for whom Warholm is an inspiration.

“It shows that you can come from a small, remote place and become the best in the world,” she said.