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Karsten Warholm runs fastest 300m hurdles in history at Impossible Games

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Karsten Warholm ran the fastest 300m hurdles in history in a solo race in a largely empty stadium, clocking 33.78 seconds at the Impossible Games in Oslo on Thursday.

Warholm, the two-time reigning world 400m hurdles champion, took seven tenths of a second off an 18-year-old record in a rarely contested event. He did so at the closest thing resembling an international track and field meet in three months, since the coronavirus pandemic.

The Impossible Games, a repurposed version of an annual Diamond League meet in Oslo, had few spectators (mostly cutouts, including renderings of Michael Jordan and Homer Simpson), limited events and small fields.

Full results are here.

Another repurposed meet is due for July 9, featuring Allyson Felix and Noah Lyles racing from their training bases against athletes in different countries. The regular Diamond League calendar is scheduled to resume in August.

In other events Thursday, a Norwegian team in Oslo beat a Kenyan team in Nairobi in a 2000m. The Norwegians, led by brothers FilipHenrik and Jakob Ingebrigtsen, easily prevailed. The Kenyans, with the last two 1500m world champions Timothy Cheruiyot and Elijah Manangoi, had to run in the rain.

Mondo Duplantis, the pole vault world-record holder who flew from Louisiana to compete, beat former world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie, who previously taped his own attempts from his French home. Duplantis cleared 5.86 meters, four months after raising the overall world record to 6.17 and then 6.18 meters at indoor meets.

Norwegian Therese Johaug, the world’s best cross-country skier, lowered her 10,000m personal best by 40 seconds to 31:40.67, which is 15 seconds shy of the Olympic standard.

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‘Impossible Games’ signal return of track and field; TV, stream schedule

Karsten Warholm
AP
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Track and field is back. Like never before.

The Impossible Games air live on Thursday at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. The meet is a repurposed version of a Diamond League stop in Oslo.

Thursday’s competition will have no fans, limited events and fewer athletes, including some solo races. It’s the closest thing to a top-flight international track and field meet since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The headliners: the two top-ranked pole vaulters in history — Swede Mondo Duplantis and Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie, world 400m hurdles champion Karsten Warholm of Norway and the world’s best cross-country skier, Norwegian Therese Johaug, who is racing a 10,000m alone.

The regular Diamond League calendar is scheduled to resume in August.

Here are the Oslo entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

1:35 p.m. — Men’s Pole Vault
2:05 — Men’s 1000m
2:08 — Men’s Discus
2:15 — Women’s 200m Hurdles
2:25 — Women’s 600m
2:35 — Women’s 300m Hurdles
2:43 — Men’s 300m Hurdles
2:50 — Men’s 2000m
2:58 — Men’s 25K
3:25 — Men’s 100m
3:30 — Women’s 10,000m
3:50 — Men’s Shot Put
4:15 — Women’s 3000m

Here are three events to watch:

Men’s Pole Vault — 1:35 p.m.
Duplantis and Lavillenie duel for the second time during the pandemic. The first, one month ago, was dubbed “The Ultimate Garden Clash.” Duplantis pole vaulted from his family’s backyard in Louisiana, Lavillenie from his home in France and world champion Sam Kendricks from his native Mississippi in a virtual event. Duplantis and Lavillenie tied for the win by clearing five meters 36 times in a half-hour. In February, Duplantis, 20, broke Lavillenie’s six-year-old world record by clearing 6.17 and 6.18 meters on consecutive Saturdays. For the Impossible Games, Duplantis flew from Louisiana to Stockholm last weekend, then planned to take a six-hour drive to Oslo. Lavillenie will again be jumping from home in France, but Duplantis will have company at the Oslo stadium in the form of 19-year-old Norwegian Pal Haugen Lillefosse.

Men’s 300m Hurdles — 2:43 p.m.
Warholm, the two-time reigning world 400m hurdles champion, races alone here. He is targeting the fastest time in history in the 300m hurdles, a rarely contested event. The record of 34.48 seconds was set by Brit Chris Rawlinson in 2002.

Men’s 2000m — 2:50 p.m.
This is a group event, similar to speed skating’s team pursuit. In the Oslo stadium will be Team Ingebrigtsen, featuring brothers FilipHenrik and Jakob and two more Norwegians. In Kenya will be Team Cheruiyot, featuring the last two world 1500m champions — Timothy Cheruiyot and Elijah Manangoi, plus three more Kenyans. The winner will be the team with the best overall time for the top three runners.

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World’s best pole vaulter clears new bar: crossing Atlantic to return to competition

Mondo Duplantis
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Already this year, Mondo Duplantis cleared never-before-seen heights in the pole vault — world records at 20 feet, 3 inches on consecutive Saturdays in February.

He recently embarked on another unprecedented flight, becoming the first track and field superstar to cross the Atlantic Ocean for an international meet this spring.

Duplantis, a 20-year-old Swede who was raised in Louisiana, is among the main attractions for the Impossible Games in Oslo on Thursday (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app). The meet, traditionally called the Bislett Games on the annual Diamond League calendar, was repurposed given the coronavirus pandemic.

Fewer athletes, including some in solo races. No fans. Some competitors taking part virtually from different countries. It’s the closest thing resembling an international competition to be held anywhere in three months.

Duplantis is one of the athletes flying in to participate. Perhaps the only one coming from outside Europe, taking at least a minimal health risk.

“You don’t pole vault to be safe, either,” Duplantis’ father, Greg, a retired American pole vaulter, said in a recent interview. “He’s chomping at the bit to do something.

“I understand, there’s some risk level, but Norway has done one of the best jobs that there is as far as containing the virus. Very, very strict. So, we’re not as worried. We really don’t consider Norway any more of a risk than Louisiana.”

Duplantis typically trains at LSU, where he and both of his parents competed. Or in his mother’s hometown in Sweden during the season, when most meets are in Europe. His mom, Helena, was a volleyball player and heptathlete. His dad finished fifth in the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials.

When LSU’s facilities shut two months ago, Duplantis had a back-up option: his family’s backyard in Lafayette.

Duplantis, who began pole vaulting at age 3, developed into a teenage sensation in the yard. But Greg couldn’t remember the last time his youngest of three sons (all pole vaulters at some point, along with daughter Johanna) had a jump session at home before the pandemic.

The setup is not the most ideal for a grown athlete. There’s a brick wall near the mat, but not dangerously close. The landing mat deteriorated from years weathering outdoor elements (and became frequented by mice and possums, according to The New York Times). The most limiting factor is the board runway made up of four-by-eight-foot plywood sheets, about seven of which had to be replaced due to water rot for Duplantis to jump there this spring. (Duplantis helped with the labor, though handiwork is not his forte.)

It’s a limited run-up. There is enough space for Duplantis to sprint about six steps before planting his pole. His typical full run is 20 steps.

“It’s not real safe for him to jump over 17 feet,” Greg said. The last time Duplantis made a competition jump with the bar shy of 17 feet was his junior year in high school, according to the track and field statistics website Tilastopaja. He supplemented his backyard vaulting this spring with training on gymnastics equipment — a high bar and rings.

There’s another family of pole vaulters in town: the Odinets. They transformed an open lot next to their house into a pole vault facility. “It’s a better mat,” Greg said. “It’s a better runway. Everything’s newer. It’s wide open. Everybody prefers to jump there.”

Duplantis has jumped there. But, “he actually prefers the backyard,” Greg said, “which is strange. I think it’s sentimental to him.”

On Friday, Duplantis took a car from Lafayette to New Orleans. He flew to Stockholm, an hour from his mom’s hometown of Uppsala, his summer base. He will drive six hours to Oslo, per meet regulations requiring electric cars to transport foreign athletes from the Swedish border and back.

“The big issue was to get poles there [Oslo], because there’s very limited flights coming out of the United States,” Greg said. “Nowadays there are fewer and fewer carriers that take poles at all. … We couldn’t find a flight out of New Orleans that could handle the poles.”

Duplantis will use an extra set of poles he left in France from the indoor season, when he broke those world records on consecutive Saturdays.

“Turned out to probably be the worst place to leave them because it’s the most locked-down place there is,” Greg said. “But we hired a driver to truck them from France to Sweden, and they have arrived in Sweden.”

The whole process conjures a story from 2015, when Duplantis was to fly to Cali, Colombia to compete in his first major international meet — the World Youth Championships. He had already decided to compete for Sweden rather than the U.S., but what transpired en route to South America confirmed the choice.

Greg had to coordinate flights that allowed poles from New Orleans to Miami, Miami to Bogota and Bogota to Cali. The second flight, with the most limited options, proved difficult.

“I looked on their website, and it says they don’t take poles, and it specifically said they don’t take pole vault poles,” Greg said. “I actually contacted the airline, and they said, ‘We don’t take pole vaulting poles.'”

The Swedish head coach took care of everything in about 24 hours. The coach contacted the Colombian federation, which contacted the airline, which made an exception. But once they got to the airport, a counter employee did not allow the poles. Greg was ready. He pulled up an email from a superior at the airline, and she let them through.

Duplantis took gold, breaking the championship record. The Americans’ poles didn’t arrive in time, Greg said.

“It was just a good story of the coach of the Swedish team really taking care of stuff, not that the Americans don’t,” Greg said. “Not long before that, they had the American trials. We were deciding right at the last minute to go to the American trials or compete for Sweden.

Andreas [seven-years-older brother] decided to compete for Sweden, and I think that was an influence on him.”

Greg also noted another pole vaulter, dual American-Canadian citizen Shawn Barber. Barber finished sixth at the 2012 U.S. Junior Championships, then decided to represent Canada at the world junior championships later that summer and took bronze.

“In the back of your mind, there’s always this risk that you don’t make the team, even if you’re one of the best in the world, in the United States, just because of the system,” Greg said.

In Oslo on Thursday, Duplantis is slated to compete against 19-year-old Norwegian Pal Haugen Lillefosse, whose personal-best clearance is more than two feet shy of Duplantis’ world record.

Also entered: former world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie, who will be jumping in his yard in France. One month ago, Duplantis and Lavillenie tied for the win in a virtual pole vault competition where Duplantis jumped from the Lafayette backyard, Lavillenie in France and world champion Sam Kendricks from Mississippi.

An Oslo meet official said there will not be coronavirus testing for athletes.

“But everyone attending the meet, athletes, officials, press and volunteers will have to fill out a pre-triage form for screening developed by our meeting doctor,” he wrote in an email last week. “She works in the covid-19 emergency group at Ullevål Hospital together with the head of Communicable Diseases in Oslo.”

Greg said his son would follow health policies, including wearing a mask on the transatlantic flight. Since Duplantis, who spoke with Swedish media outlets Tuesday, normally spends summers in Sweden, he could skip the round trip back to Louisiana.

“It is a limited competition, but it is a competition,” said Greg, who remembers competing at Bislett Stadium decades ago, in the middle of the Norwegian capital, surrounded by spectators holding watch parties on their balconies and roofs. “The organizers at Oslo went to a lot of trouble to get this done. They always put on a great show, even though they’re not going to have spectators [inside the stadium]. He wants to compete anyway. It’s going to be a little bit strange, but that’s what you do as an athlete, is you compete. That’s really thing the only thing we have to offer right now.”

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