Summer Olympics wrapup

Tokyo 2021

karsten warholm and rai benjamin running the 400m hurdles

Photo: Heiko Junge / NTB
Karsten Warholm (left) and American Rai Benjamin (right) in action in the Olympic final of the 400 m hurdles.

MICHAEL KLEINER
Business & Sports Editor
The Norwegian American

The 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo were unlike any of its predecessors and historic on many levels. It was the Olympics delayed by a year by a worldwide pandemic that had not completed its course, setting its own world records, when the athletes marched into the stadium for the opening ceremonies. 

International spectators were forbidden. While the teams and media were subject to protocols within a bubble atmosphere, COVID-19 cases outside were spiking. Before the start of the Olympics, as many as 80% of Japanese citizens were against the Olympics being held. Every shot of an athlete when they weren’t competing showed them wearing masks. Officials at venues handed out masks.

In empty stadiums and arenas, which still had 2020 signs, athletes had to rely on their own adrenaline to pull them through. They delivered history. Norway was very much a part of that, reaching the goal of eight medals, with each of the four golds historic and special in their own way. A fifth gold was oh so close.

Gold and more for Karsten Warholm

Gold medal winner Karsten Warholm points to his world record breaking time on the screen

Photo: Lise Åserud/NTB
Karsten Warholm became the first runner to run the 400m hurdles in under 46 seconds, breaking the world record he set just a month before.

Karsten Warholm spent the last couple years breaking personal records, Norwegian records, and European records in the 400m hurdles, inching closer to Kevin Young’s world record of 46.78, set in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. The pandemic prevented many tests against international competition. Rather than wait for the Olympics, Warholm set the “hurdle,” setting the world record of 46.70 on July 1 at Bislett Stadium in Oslo.

The final at the Olympics on Aug. 3 set him up against his closest challenger, American Rai Benjamin, as well as some other top runners. Warholm fist bumped with Benjamin before the race. The broadcasters hyped the event as the race of the Games. “The spotlight is firmly on the most dynamic runners this event has ever seen. The world record watch is officially on as Rai Benjamin and Karsten Warholm get set for the biggest race of their lives.”

Warholm burst into the lead from the start. Benjamin closed the gap some, but as they made the final turn, Warholm stretched the lead. As they cleared the last hurdles, Benjamin moved closer to Warholm’s shoulder, but Warholm held him off with a time of 45.94, the world and Olympic record, .76 better than his Bislett run, and less than 46 seconds. 

Warholm put his hands on his head, his mouth wide open in disbelief. He tore his shirt apart and gave a roar. He crouched and put his hands over his eyes. He fist bumped and hugged Benjamin and congratulated the other runners. Benjamin crouched, shocked, as he had also broken the record, 46.17, good enough only for silver. Alison dos Santos of Brazil took the bronze in 46.72, also breaking Young’s record and setting the South American standard. A record that had stood for 29 years was broken by all three runners in the same race. Warholm draped himself in the Norwegian flag and took his familiar pose next to the scoreboard indicating the record.

Norway had won only one Olympic medal in track, while the American men and women had won 797 total medals. It wasn’t a good Olympics for the American men with just one gold, while Norway had two.

“I told myself, going in here today, that this can actually define everything that me and my coaches have been working for,” Warholm said on Olympics.com. “It was very hard falling asleep last night. I had this special feeling in my chest. You know, when you’re nervous. I was just thinking to myself, this is the feeling I had when I was 6 years old on Christmas Eve. I never got that feeling again when I got older. Yesterday, I had it, and it was special. It’s by far the biggest moment of my life. Just getting this last medal in my collection. It’s complete.”

Warholm is 25, Benjamin 24, so there are meetings in their futures.

“Now, I’ve just got to set myself new goals because I don’t feel like I’m done yet,” said Warholm.

Gold on first attempt for Jakob Ingebrigtsen

Gold medal winner Jakob Ingebrigtsen celebrates his gold medal

Photo: Stian Lysberg Solum/NTB
On the last turn of the 1,500m, 20-year-old Jakob Ingebrigtsen passed Kenyan legend Timothy Cheruiyot to set Olympic and European records and a personal best.

Jakob Ingebrigtsen, the youngest of the three Ingebrigtsen brothers, has been winning races and setting records since he was 16. His Olympic debut at Tokyo was a coming out for the 20-year-old. The men’s 1,500m is always the penultimate track event of the Olympics before the men’s marathon and generates excitement. 

The final on Aug. 7 had a strong field, led by 25-year-old Kenyan legend Timothy Cheruiyot, who was the 2019 world champion, ran the fastest time in the world in 2020 (3:28.45) and knocked that down to 3:28.28 at Monaco earlier this season. Plus, he was 13-0 against Ingebrigtsen.

The race lived up to the excitement of the 400m hurdles. 

The runners started fast. At 200 meters, Ingebrigtsen moved into the lead. After the first lap, Cheruiyot took the lead and maintained the pace. The split tine at 800 meters was 1:51.76, an Olympic record pace. As they moved into the final 400 meters, Cheruiyot and Ingebrigtsen were 1-2. At the 1,200-meter mark, the time was 2:47.24, far ahead of the Olympic record pace. When they went into the final turn and 200 meters, Ingebrigtsen took the lead and raced away from the field with a personal best and European and Olympic record of 3:28.33, obliterating the record set by Kenya’s Abel Kipseng in the semifinals by 3.32 seconds. 

The previous record had stood for 21 years. Cheruiyot took silver in 3:29.01 and Josh Kerr (Great Britain) earned bronze in 3:29.05, as all broke the Olympic record, as did Kipseng (3:29.56), Adel Mechaal of Spain (3:30.77); and Cole Hocker of the United States (3:31.40). 

“I’ve been able to win gold, first try, and I feel like I am just getting started,” said Ingebrigtsen, the second youngest winner of the 1,500m, on Olympics.com. “But at the same time, I have been dreaming of this for my whole life. It’s great. I’ve been struggling with eating for the last couple of weeks because I have been waiting so long for this race. This is what you want as a professional runner. This is (not just) me winning this race. If it wasn’t for my brothers, my family, and my fiancée, I wouldn’t be able to do any of this. It is a whole team around me that’s incredible.”

Gold medal winner Kristian Blummenfelt celebrates his crossing the finish line first

Photo: Lise Åserud/NTB
Kristian Blummenfelt celebrates after breaking the tape at the end of the 10km run, the final leg in gold medal-winning triathlon.

Who won the triathlon?

Kristian Blummenfelt won Norway’s first medal, taking gold in the triathlon on July 26. We missed him in our preview. His final time was 1 hour, 45 minutes and 4 seconds, besting world champion Alex Yee of Great Britain and Hayden Wilde of New Zealand. Contestants competed in 1,500m swim, 40km bike ride and 10km run. The 27-year-old Blummenfelt was fifth after the swim and bike portions.

“I wanted a medal, obviously I preferred the gold medal,” he said on Olympics.com. “Everything else I would have been disappointed with. I’m just extremely relieved to have it around my neck now.”

Unlike mother, like son

At the 1996 Olympics, Anders Mol’s mother, Merita Berntsen Mol, finished ninth in beach volleyball. A year later, Anders was born, and 24 years later, he and 25-year-old Christian Sørum became the youngest gold medal winners in beach volleyball, defeating Russia Olympic Committee’s (ROC) Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy 21-17, 21-18 in 40 minutes on Aug. 7.

Anders Mol sets up for Christian Sørum

Photo: Heiko Junge/NTB
Anders Mol prepares to set up Christian Sørum in the men’s beach volleyball championship against the Russian Olympic Committee’s Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy.

In the first set, Mol/Sørum fell behind 7-2 before charging back with Mol’s blocks and Sørum’s aces. It took the fourth set point serve to claim victory. In the second set, it was tied 7-7 before Norway turned it on. ROC creeped closer but they served into the net for the set and match points for Mol/Sørum, who hugged in the sand. In seven matches, Mol/Sørum lost only one set, to Australia’s Christopher McHugh and Damien Schumann in the opener of pool play.

“I always dreamed of beating my mum in the Olympics,” Mol said on Olympics.com. “I was really happy when we made it to the quarterfinals because we became historical by achieving (at least) a fifth place. It has been a journey for a long time, and our parents and families are very proud of us right now.”

“It was just an amazing feeling to play at this high level in the Olympic final,” said Sørum.

Eivind Henriksen winds up during the hammer throw

Photo: Lise Åserud/NTB
Eivind Henriksen set the Norwegian record three times, topped by 81.5 meters, which gave him a surprising silver medal.

Hammering down the silver

Eivind Henrikesen is another person we missed who found his way to the podium. On Aug. 4, he collected a silver in the hammer throw with a Norwegian record 81.58 meters, trailing Poland’s Wojciech Nowicki, who had a personal best 82.52 meters. Poland’s Pawel Fajdek took bronze with a toss of 81.53 meters.

“I had a feeling I could throw 80 [meters] today, but I had no idea I had 81 and a half in me, so it’s hard to describe the feeling,” said Henriksen on Olympics.com. “It means everything. I worked so many years. I’m just shocked.”

Borch rows to silver

In Men’s Single Skulls, Kjetil Borch won his heat (6:54.46) by 9.96; quarterfinal (7:10.07) by 1.80 over Greece’s Stefanos Ntouskos, and semifinal (6:42.92) by 2.35. Ntouskos (6:40.45) exacted revenge in the final on July 30, besting Borch (6:41.66) and Croatia’s Damir Martin (6:42.58) with a strong push over the last 250 meters, earning Greece’s first gold medal in rowing.

Women’s handball settles for bronze

Entering the Games, Norway was a strong contender for gold in women’s handball. In group play, they beat Republic of Korea 39-27 (Kari Brattset Dale 11G, Veronica Kristiansen 7G); Angola 30-21 (Henny Reistad 10G, Kristiansen 7G); Montenegro 35-23 (Kristine Breistøl 9G, Sana Solberg-Isaksen 7G; Game tied 13-13 at halftime); Netherlands 29-27 (Nora Mørk 9G, Kristiansen 6G) and Japan 37-25 (Marit Malm Frafjord 6G, Stine Skogrand, Mørk, Kristiansen 5G). In the quarterfinal, Norway beat Hungary 26-22 (Dale 7G, Reistad 4G). 

Then, in the semifinal, they faced the ROC. The Russians led 14-11 at halftime, 25-20 with 9:44 left, 27-24 with 2:46 on the clock. Reistad and Stine Bredal Oftedal closed the gap to one with 1:36 left but that’s as close as Norway (Mørk 10G, Skogrand 4G) could get, falling 27-26.

Nora Mørk celebrates scoring a goal

Photo: Stian Lysberg Solum/NTB
Nora Mørk scored eight of Norway’s 36 goals against Sweden to win the bronze in women’s handball.

Norway (Dale, Mørk 8G) was emphatic they were going to medal for the fourth straight Olympics, jumping to a 19-7 halftime lead in the bronze medal game Aug. 8, and routing Sweden 36-19. Norway became the leader in most Olympic medals in women’s handball.

“The win was very well-deserved, but it’s a bittersweet feeling,” said Mørk on Olympics.com. “We played really well today. We lose one match at these Olympics, and we still weren’t best when it really mattered. I’m also very proud of this group and the way we stand up again. There was a readjustment needed. There were a couple of nights with little sleep.”

“We were really down after the semifinal and did a fantastic job together to work ourselves back up for this bronze-medal final,” said Dale. “I am so proud of this medal. This team is amazing.”

Hermann Tomasgaard sails away with a bronze

Hermann Tomasgaard in his sailboat

Photo: Heiko Junge/NTB
Sailor Hermann Tomasgaard won the bronze medal in the men’s one person dinghy laser, earning Norway’s first Olympic sailing medal since 2004.

After 10 races in the Men’s One Person Dinghy Laser sailing, Australia’s Matthew Wearn had an insurmountable lead entering the medal race Aug. 1. Hermann Tomasgaard was second, but his seventh-place finish dropped him to bronze (85 points), Norway’s first sailing medal since 2004. Wearn (53 points) finished second in the medal race for Australia’s third straight gold in the event. Croatia’s Tonči Stipanović (82 points) took silver.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 3, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Michael Kleiner

Michael Kleiner, business and sports editor, has more than three decades of experience as an award-winning journalist and public relations professional. He has operated his own PR and web design business for small businesses, authors and community organizations in Philadelphia since 1999. Not of Norwegian descent, he lived in Norway for a year with his family at age 11 and has returned as an adult. He is the author of a memoir, Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway, and a member of the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce Philadelphia. Visit Kleinerprweb.com; beyondthecold.com.

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