Warholm stars as athletics returns to Oslo via French garden and windswept Kenya

Pierre-Henry DESHAYES
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Double world 400m hurdles champion Karsten Warholm smashed the world record for the unorthodox 300m hurdles behind closed doors at a near-empty Bislett Stadion on Thursday

Double world 400m hurdles champion Karsten Warholm put aside coronavirus-induced Lego building to smash the world record for the unorthodox 300m hurdles behind closed doors at a near-empty Bislett Stadium on Thursday.

After Oslo's famed Diamond League meet, scheduled to be held this week, was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, organisers chose to innovate as track and field returned with its first international, multi-discipline event, dubbed the 'Impossible Games'.

And home favourite Warholm did not disappoint, the Norwegian clocking 33.78 seconds in the rarely-run event, pulverising the previous record of 34.48sec set by Briton Chris Rawlinson back in 2002.

In a stadium where cardboard cutouts replaced fans, barred entry because of the COVID-19 outbreak, and socially-distanced dancers with mannequins added ambiance, Warholm's feat was all the more impressive as he ran the race solo.

Setting off in his favoured lane seven, the 24-year-old went through his normal pre-race routine before blasting off, keeping his rhythm early on before producing a blistering push for the line.

"I've been building a lot of Legos, yeah, and also I've been training almost just as much, putting in training and trying to become even better," said Warholm of his time away from the sport.

"Of course, I missed the crowd and everything but it's awesome to be back. It's better to do it alone than to not do it at all."

There was more home success as a Norwegian team led by the three Ingebrigtsen brothers triumphed in a 2000 metre race over a strong Kenyan quintet led by Timothy Cheruiyot and Elijah Manangoi, world 1500m champions in 2019 and 2017 respectively.

The Kenyans were running simultaneously via video link from Nairobi, where they had to contend not only with the city's 1,795m altitude, but also wind and rain.

The Ingebrigtsens, Filip, Henrik and Jakob, maintained an early lead over the Kenyans, the latter two brothers taking up the running from the 1km mark.

- An important occasion -

The victory went to Jakob Ingebrigtsen, just 19, in an European record of 4min 50.01sec that smashed the previous best of 4:51.39 set in 1985 by Britain's Steve Cram, but remained a way off Moroccan Hicham Guerrouj's world best of 4:44.79 set in 1999.

All three Norwegian brothers finished within the 4:57 mark, while the fastest home for the Kenyan team in terrible conditions was Cheruiyot in 5:03.05.

"Cheruiyot was our main competitor. It's not easy beating a world champion, but we did it!" said Jakob Ingebrigtsen, welcoming a return to the track.

"I've spent so much time doing boring training sessions, it's the competition that counts the most, it's fun."

Cram, now a commentator for the BBC, said the Oslo meet had been "a special and important occasion because it's athletics back at the highest level".

"It's been slightly different without a normal crowd, but the athletes had a platform to do their best and they certainly gave it their all."

A men's pole vault competition saw world record holder Armand Duplantis of Sweden up against 2012 Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie.

The Frenchman had already jumped from his own back garden -- off a much-shortened runway -- and his effort was broadcast in line with his Swedish counterpart's.

The pair competed last month by filming themselves at home, but Duplantis benefitted from proper track conditions to win, clearing 5.86m at the third attempt. Lavillenie failed on his three efforts at the same distance.

Duplantis had a shot at a "crowd-pleaser" of 6.01m, but did not come close.

"I wanted to jump a little bit higher, but I knew I wasn't in the best shape of my life right now. I know I'm rusty!" said Duplantis.

"I've been missing competition for sure and even if it's not what we are typically used to, it's still fun to get back on the track.

"I'm going to sleep well tonight, I'm not going to complain. It was fun to be out there. Good day at work."