Karsten Warholm: The Norwegian world record holder's early days. GETTY IMAGES

Norwegian star Karsten Warholm got his first taste of victory at the age of seven when he won a medal in jeans at a local road race in the picturesque town of Ulsteinvik in the heart of Norway.

Over the years, Karsten Warholm's victories have piled up, with medals of all shapes and sizes adorning the walls of his childhood bedroom in Ulsteinvik, Norway, a town of around 9,000 people. 

This once modest collection has grown to nearly a hundred, a testament to the tireless dedication and unparalleled talent of the winner of two European Championships, three World Championships and the Olympic 400m hurdles title in Tokyo in 2021 

Each medal tells a story of triumph, perseverance, and the relentless pursuit of excellence that has defined Warholm's remarkable journey, which ended as a global icon but began as a young boy encouraged by a friend to run a local race in the summer of 2003. 

"He turned up in jeans, no sportswear, and crushed everyone. After that he took up athletics. I also did athletics for years, but because I was competing against Karsten, my list of achievements consists mainly of silver medals," his friend Kristian Mork told AFP.

In his family home near Ulsteinvik, Karsten Warholm's childhood bedroom now serves as a trophy room. Noticeably absent are his Olympic gold medal from Tokyo and a shoe he wore during his record-breaking 400m hurdles run, which are kept elsewhere.

What he did in Tokyo, when he shaved 0.76 seconds off his world record, is a historic Olympic moment as he became the first man to run under 46 seconds, beating Kevin Young’s previous record of 46.78 set in Barcelona 1992.

"We always try to leave a little room... just in case," laughs Kristine Golin Haddal, Karsten's mother and agent, about getting another medal at Paris 2024. The Norwegian 'Viking' is the big favourite for the Olympics, despite his defeat at the last Diamond League.

In their youth, Kristine was a passionate athlete, while Mikal devoted himself to football. This dynamic home environment inevitably influenced their son Karsten.

At the age of 15, Warholm became a track and field sensation at the 2011 unofficial National Youth Indoor Championships, winning gold medals in the long jump, high jump, 60m, 60m hurdles and 200m in just one weekend. "He liked to try out different events, to challenge himself, to see if he could do this or that," said Kristine. 

"He trained all year round, often outdoors. I'm not sure he always enjoyed it, but he did everything we agreed, rain or shine," said his former high school physical education teacher, Svein Ove Fylsvik. 

Although Warholm competed in the 400m hurdles, he began his athletics story in the octathlon, the youth equivalent of the decathlon. He won the gold medal at the 2015 World Junior Championships in Donetsk.

"He wasn't a big fan of the 400m. Too tiring. He continued to be versatile and dabbled in everything until he was 18 or 19. He struggled to really excel in the combined events because he wasn't very good at the javelin," Arve Hatloy, his youth coach, said.

Only upon relocating to Oslo in 2015 did Warholm truly dedicate himself to the 400m hurdles, a decision under the mentorship of his current coach, Leif Olav Alnes, that would ultimately pave the way for his record-breaking achievements.

He and Tokyo 2020 1,500 gold medallist Jakob Ingebrigtsen served as an inspiration to his countrymen, as did 20-year-old hurdles specialist Lovise Skarbovik Andresen. "They show that you can come from a small, remote place and become the best in the world," she told AFP.