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Rai Benjamin Overcomes Injury To Claim World Silver Medal In 400-meter Hurdles

By Karen Rosen | Sept. 30, 2019, 4:29 p.m. (ET)

Rai Benjamin celebrates winning silver in the Men's 400-meter hurdles at the 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 on Sept. 30, 2019 in Doha, Qatar. 


DOHA, Quatar – Rai Benjamin couldn’t quite make Karsten Warholm pay in the men’s 400-meter hurdles Monday night.

Prior to the IAAF World Championships, Warholm, the defending world champion from Norway, said, “I live by the words of ‘Wall Street’ movie character Gordon Gekko. He says, ‘Greed is good.’”

Benjamin later quipped, “If he is Gordon Gekko, then I am the IRS.”

But the American was the one who felt taxed in the final stages of the race and paid the price while Warholm added more gold to his pockets.

The rivals were about even at the eighth hurdle, then Warholm pulled slightly ahead at the ninth. He turned on the gas at the 10th hurdle and won with a time of 47.42 seconds.

Benjamin held off Abderrahman Samba, the hometown favorite from Qatar, 47.66 to 48.03.

And somewhere Kevin Young is smiling. His world and American record of 46.78, set 27 years ago in winning the gold medal for Team USA at the Olympic Games Barcelona 1992, is safe for another season.

Benjamin revealed after the race that he was suffering from a bone bruise on his heel after falling in practice three weeks ago.

“Part of me wants to be hard on myself, part of me doesn’t, but here we are,” said the 22-year-old from Los Angeles. “Considering a few weeks ago I couldn’t really walk and I was contemplating scratching this meet, so I’m pretty happy with where I’m right now. It’s pretty tough these past two weeks, but I toughed it out and came out with the silver.”

After his injury, Benjamin spent some time on crutches. He and his coaches, Olympic gold medalists Quincy Watts and Joanna Hayes, talked about pulling him out of worlds.

What got him onto the track at Khalifa International Stadium?

“Just the fact that I couldn’t quit,” said Benjamin, who pronounced himself available for relay duty. “At this point, I made it all the way here and I think it’d be pretty unfair to myself and to the spectators to just scratch. It was a pretty tough decision to make and at the end of the day it wasn’t really about me. It was about USA and the fans and the spectators, so I did what I had to do. My heel still hurts a little bit, but here I am.”

About four or five days ago, Benjamin started running again. Then he just tried to survive through the first two rounds.

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This event was one of the most anticipated of the meet. After all, on Aug. 29 at the Diamond League Final in Zurich, Warholm clocked 46.92 seconds, followed by Benjamin at 46.98. That made Young a little anxious for his world record.

When the stage was set for the Doha final, none of the contenders were next to each other, with Warholm in Lane 4, Benjamin in Lane 7 and Samba way out in Lane 9.

Benjamin, wearing his signature white headband, went out fast in the first 200. But he chopped his steps on the backstretch and had a bloody knee to show for it.

He said he “possibly” could have won, but was too sloppy.

“I hit a few hurdles and paid the price right here,” Benjamin said. “My knee’s pretty gashed up.”

Samba, who was also coping with an injury and had not cleared hurdles in competition since May 18, had a strong finish, holding off TJ Holmes of Team USA, who finished fifth with a personal best time of 48.20. He was also fifth two years ago at worlds.

After the race, Warholm, who was the surprise winner at age 21 in London, lay on the track with his arms outstretched and a big smile on his face. He later donned a Viking helmet, just as he did when he won his first title.

Benjamin said his first world championships experience is “just fuel for 2020. There are some things I need to hone in on. Now I know what to fix. My rookie season I’m pretty excited and pretty proud of myself.

“I’m lucky to come out with a silver medal. It’s a testament to overcoming adversity at my first major championships, so the sky’s the limit.”

Although he was born in the United States, Benjamin competed for Antigua and Barbuda at the 2013 World Youth Championships, then petitioned to change his citizenship. His father, Winston, played cricket on the international level for West Indies.

Warholm, who was Norway’s first male world champion on the track, was generous in his press conference.

“It’s crazy times coming and I know I have to work really hard to keep these things going,” he said. “These guys are going to hunt me, I think. So I’m not going to sleep.”