karsten warholm gold medal
Warholm in 2013; (photo/Shutterstock)

Race Winner Calls Spikes “B*******” After Setting World Record

An Olympic hurdler broke his own world record in the 400m. He didn’t mince words when commenting on the runner-up’s track spikes.

Is it still bad sportsmanship if you imply your opponent’s equipment is unfair but beat them anyway? Case in point: Karsten Warholm, who won Olympic gold in the 400m hurdles and then used scatology to refer to the track spikes in runner-up Rai Benjamin’s running shoes.

Before the race on Tuesday, Warholm already held the world record in the event with a time of 46.70. Then he smashed it with a new time of 45.94 — the first occasion in which a runner cleared the 400m in under 46 seconds. Notably, Rai Benjamin also beat the old record with his time of 46.17.

karsten warholm hurdles, Warholm takes issue with track spikes in running shoes
Warholm in 2020; (photo/Shutterstock)

But according to Warholm, the proprietary cushioning tech in Benjamin’s Nike spikes was — ahem — profanely inappropriate. The winner spoke to the press pointedly after the race.

“If you want cushioning, you can put a mattress there. But if you put a trampoline I think it’s b*******, and I think it takes credibility away from our sport.”

Strong stuff! What makes the world record hurdler so vehement?

Pebax and Cushioned Sprint Shoes: Problematic Tech

The “trampoline” Warholm refers to is a Pebax insert that’s available for Nike sprint shoes. Pebax is a highly developed elastomer.

Regarding the credibility of track sports, the material’s manufacturer itself boasts that “hundreds of world records have been enabled on tracks around the world by Pebax.” Warholm takes issue with the material on the basis of what some might perceive as elitism.

“He had those things in his shoes, which I hate,” he said. “I don’t see why you should put anything beneath a sprinting shoe. In the middle distance, I can understand it because of the cushioning.”

Many running shoes feature materials similar to Pebax. And ironically, Warholm himself is working on his own shoes with help from Puma and the Mercedes F1 team.

karsten warholm
Warholm after setting the European 400m record in 2019; (photo/Shutterstock)

Attempting to dispel any doubt, he asserts that his super spikes will be different than Benjamin’s Nikes.

“Yes, we have the carbon plate but we have tried to make it as thin as possible. Because that is the way I would like to do it,” he said. “Of course technology will always be there. But I also want to keep it down to a level where we can compare results because that is important.”

He has a point. In a sport where success, failure, and even records are separated by hundredths of seconds, fair play is pivotal.

Fast Track?

One way or another, previous 400m hurdles records are dropping like flies. Warholm’s own record was only a month old when he broke it.

The previous record had gone uncontested for 29 years. The 25-year-old did join various other athletes in their perception that the Tokyo track is unusually quick, calling it “crazy” and “very fast.”

But then, the young world record holder appeared to step back from his opinions for a moment to acknowledge the spirit of competition that underpins it all, “But it’s not just the track,” he said. “[I]t was the guys as well pushing each other on.”

May the push continue — trampoline-aided or not.

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Sam Anderson

Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.