Let's start with the clock, a world record, and some caveats.
45.94 seconds: Karsten Warholm, Norway, a world record.
46.17: Rai Benjamin, USA, world record on any other day except August 3, 2021.
46.72: Alison dos Santos, Brazil, world record on any day before July 1, 2021.
Welcome to the greatest race ever run -- the 400m men's hurdles final at the Tokyo Olympics.
It began with Warholm — the world record holder even before the craziest 45.94 seconds of his life — thumping his chest and slapping his face at the starting line, and ended with him placing his hands on his head and ripping his jersey apart, screaming to the empty stands in disbelief.
This was an emotional race. This was a mind-bogglingly fast race, where six out of the eight runners set a new world, area (continent), or national records. To put these astounding figures in perspective, the world mark in 400m— where runners cream through the clean track — is 43.03s, just 2.91s faster than what Warholm ran with 10 hurdles to scale.
Three of the world's four fastest times in the history of men's 400m hurdles were set on the bright Tuesday Tokyo morning by Warholm, Benjamin — who is the son of former West Indies fast bowler Winston Benjamin — and Santos; the other one, Warholm's 46.70 in Oslo last month, now seems like it happened in a different era, one where the 46s barrier had not yet been breached. If so, then what about Kevin Young's 46.78s, a world record that stood for 28 years and was the fastest time ever until June 30, 2021? A little over a month on, it's been pushed to fifth.
"If you would have told me that I was going to run 46.1 and lose, I would probably beat you up and tell you to get out of my room," Benjamin, who flirted with Young's mark by running 46.83 five days before Warholm broke it, said. "I don't think any race really compares to what we just did.
"This is the greatest race ever in Olympic history. It's undeniable."
Think of the most epic sprints at the Olympics: Florence Griffith Joyner at 1988 Seoul, Michael Johnson at 1996 Atlanta or Usain Bolt at, well, either 2008 or 2012. The 400m hurdles should feature too — Edwin Moses winning gold at 1984 Los Angeles after coming into the Games without losing a single race since September 1977, or Young shattering the 47-second barrier for the first time at 1992 Barcelona.
Sure, everyone loves tales of unrivalled dominance, of greats owning the track and running away on it and with it. But in Tokyo, every step and every jump from every runner added to the legend of the entire race. Sure, everyone loves a Bolt-like chest-thumping finish. But, in Tokyo, there was simply no time for that. A mad scramble ensured a perfect finish.
"I've always said that the perfect race doesn't exist," Warholm said. "But this is the closest I think I've come to a perfect race."
Coming into these Games, the 25-year-old had won almost every major 400m hurdles race; he was a world champion, a European champion, a European indoor champion, a newly-crowned world record holder. Warholm said after his win that he would dream about the Olympic gold "like a maniac". "I can't sleep. I've spent thousands of hours thinking about this," he added.
Running in Lane 6 — not his preferred Lane 7 where he apparently believes "magic happens" — Warholm was off to a quick start and kept his rival Benjamin at bay.
"After the second hurdle. I was like, s***. If you go after them, it's suicidal," fourth-placed McMaster told reporters.
Warholm broke away around the 21-second mark, but Benjamin almost caught up with him 15 seconds later, just before the final straight stretch and the final hurdle. Then, Warholm leapt, kicked on and flew. Into the record books, again.
"I couldn't feel my legs," Warholm said.
Let's also end with the clock. According to the latest edition of the World Athletics scoring tables, running 45.94s in 400m hurdles is equivalent to running 9.62s in 100m. Bolt's near-mythical 100m record stands at 9.58s.
"I don't think Usain Bolt's 9.5 was better than this," Benjamin said.