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Warholm faces Benjamin acid test in Zurich

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Zurich (AFP)

World 400m hurdles champion Karsten Warholm will finally go head-to-head with American Rai Benjamin at Thursday's Diamond League final in a rare, mouth-watering duel.

The pair didn't even meet on the track last year, but now face the prospect of not only racing against each other in Zurich but also the September 27-October 6 world championships in Doha.

Thursday's outing in Switzerland will be raced under the watchful eye of Benjamin's countryman Kevin Young, who set the 400m hurdles world record of 46.78 seconds when winning gold at the 1992 Atlanta Olympics.

Warholm, 23, claimed a shock world 400m hurdles gold for Norway at the world champs in London two years ago, and has already claimed the European record this season, clocking 47.33sec in Oslo before reducing it further to 47.12, the best time in the world, in London last month. He timed 47.26sec in Paris last week under no pressure to underline his rich run of form.

So to have the likes of 22-year-old Benjamin actually challenging him in a race is a very attractive proposition.

"It gives me good nerves," Warholm said Wednesday.

"It comes with pressure, especially when you have guys around you who are pushing the hardest."

- 'A crazy one' -

Warholm added: "It's going to be a crazy one. Everyone's been talking about these duels all year, how they can't wait for these guys to meet.

"At the same time we're pushing each other and I think it's probably a blessing in disguise. Of course nobody wants to lose, everybody wants to improve.

"I'm not afraid of losing, but I'm really afraid of not developing and becoming a better version of myself and for that I need to have opponents!"

Fast finisher Benjamin has a best of 47.02sec set in Eugene last year, and the American admitted he was happy to be back on the circuit after spending the first part of the season Stateside.

"I'm excited to get another race with phenomenal athletes and a great field and just push myself, I feel really excited," he said.

Son of Antiguan-born former West Indies fast bowler Winston Benjamin, Benjamin junior actually competed for Antigua at the under-20 CARIFTA Games in 2015, winning silver in the 400m, and also the World Relays in Bahamas that same year before switching allegiance to the United States, where he was born and spent some of his childhood.

Benjamin lamented the absence in Zurich of Qatar's Asian champion Abderrahman Samba, who went 46.98sec in Paris last year to become the second fastest ever and only the second runner to dip under 47 seconds.

"It would have been fantastic to have him. It sucks to not have him here," he said.

Benjamin had to be content with meeting world record holder Young, whom he described as a "phenomenon".

"I've been hearing his words of wisdom and his take on things when he ran," added the hurdler who said he had watched Young's gold medal-winning run from 1992 "a million times".

Warholm was quick to react on hearing of Benjamin's meeting with Young.

"I hope he hasn't given Rai too much good advice!" the Norwegian said.

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