Warholm and Lasitskene: from Rising Stars to superstars

Norway’s Karsten Warholm and Mariya Lasitskene from Russia are the newly crowned European Athletes of the Year and the duo have another landmark to their name.

As they received their honours at the Golden Track award ceremony in Tallinn, Estonia on Saturday (26) night, it was the first time two former winners of the Rising Star award have been crowned the senior winners in the same year.

Lasitskene, then competing under her maiden name of Kuchina, was the women’s Rising Star in 2014 and Warholm won the men’s title three years later. The irony is that when they won these honours – both were 21 – they were also major contenders that autumn for the main awards as once more the strength of European athletics at all age-groups shone through. 

In 2017, Warholm had secured his eye-popping title at the IAAF World Championships where he won the 400m hurdles gold with an amazing run of strength, just five weeks after winning the European U23 title in the same event. 

On Saturday he was back on the main staged being feted and hailed – and sharing a viking helmet with European Athletics President and compatriot Svein Arne Hansen – after not only retaining his world crown in Doha just a few weeks ago but running times this summer that knocked so loudly on the door of the long-standing world record of 46.78.

As he secured the Diamond League trophy in Zurich at the end of August, Warholm smashed his European record with 46.92 – the second quickest time in history.

Could it be next summer when Warholm breaks that lock and smashes the time that American Kevin Young set at the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992? How fitting it would be if Warholm reaches his greatest peak at the Olympics itself.

And both Lasitskene and Warholm are proof that a glorious foundation as a junior can reap rich rewards. Back in 2013, Warholm won the octathlon at the World Youth Championships and then in 2015, took silver in the 400m flat and the decathlon at the European U20 Championships in Eskilstuna before moving to the 400m hurdles the following year. 

From Rising Star to major star in just a few years, this is a path Lasitskene treads well with her sensational run of success. The Rising Star award was introduced in 2007 and when Lasitskene won seven years later, it came after her first senior title at the World Indoor Championships in Sopot followed by silver at the European Championships in Zurich. 

“Five years ago I didn’t think about what would happen today. I was just happy at the time that I was the Rising Star. For the moment I am really proud of myself, of my coach and all the work that I have done,” said Lasitskene. 

She had progressed brilliantly through the youth and junior ranks, winning the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010 and the European U20 gold the following summer in Tallinn with an equal championship record of 1.95m. 

That was her first major European title and how fitting she was back in the Estonian capital to be named European Athlete of the Year after winning her third successive World Championships gold in Doha. In Ostrava in June this year she equalled her personal best of 2.06m and dominated her event both indoors and outdoors again, winning 22 of her 24 competitions including the European indoor title in Glasgow.

Warholm and Lasitskene are not the first to progress from being Rising Stars to European Athletes of the Year. In the past, British heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill won the inaugural Rising Star award in 2007 and the senior equivalent in 2012 while French sprinter Christophe Lemaitre was the Rising Star winner in 2009 and the European Athlete of the Year twelve months later.

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