TOKYO — Rai Benjamin of the United States and Karsten Warholm of Norway had spent recent years circling one another as they vied for the title of world’s greatest 400-meter hurdler.
On Tuesday, under the oppressive midday sun at Olympic Stadium, Warholm obliterated his own world record to win his first Olympic gold medal, edging Benjamin, who finished second.
Warholm finished in 45.94 seconds. Benjamin also went under the existing world record in 46.17. Alison dos Santos of Brazil was third.
In the run-up to the Games this summer, Warholm and Benjamin had each seemed determined to assert himself as the world’s best. At the U.S. Olympic trials in June, Benjamin came desperately close to breaking the event’s longstanding world record, coming within .05 seconds of the mark that Kevin Young had set in winning Olympic gold for the U.S. in 1992. As it was, Benjamin’s time was the second-fastest in history.
One week later, Warholm finally did it: He ran 46.70 seconds in front of an adoring crowd at Bislett Stadium in Oslo to break Young’s record and set himself up as the favorite — by the slimmest of margins — in Tokyo.
Warholm, 25, and Benjamin, 24, offered a hint of a preview when they wound up in the same semifinal heat on Sunday. Both men eased through the finish line — Warholm less than a tenth of a second ahead of Benjamin — as they conserved energy for Tuesday’s final.
But their heat was tantalizing nonetheless — their first time going head-to-head since 2019, when Warholm edged Benjamin to defend his world championship.
Benjamin and Warholm are only two of the athletes who have combined to make the 400-meter hurdles one of the marquee disciplines at the Games — and must-see TV for those watching from home.
Last week, Warholm was asked whether he thought it would take another world record to win the gold medal.
“Maybe someone will else will do it,” he said. “I’ve done my job.”
He did his job again on Tuesday, shattering his own world record in an empty Olympic Stadium.