Canada just completed its best showing at the world athletics championships, bringing home four gold medals and two silver medals from Budapest.
Pierce LePage was among the Canadian history-makers at that meet, claiming the country’s first decathlon world title. He predicted he’d crack 8,900 points, and he delivered. The 27-year-old from Whitby, Ont., won with a world-leading 8,909, his personal-best score, and sixth-best in history. His compatriot, close friend and the reigning Olympic champ, Damian Warner, took silver, building intrigue for the gruelling all-around event at next summer’s Paris Olympics.
The Globe connected with the 6-foot-7 LePage this week, just a few days after he flew home from Hungary. He was still recovering from the aches, pains and jet lag after stamping himself the new all-round king of athletics.
What does it feel like when you reach that 1,500 metres, the final event of a decathlon?
Your body feels terrible. Before you start the 1,500, it’s miserable. Then when you start running, it’s miserable, and the third lap is the most miserable. But the final lap, you can see the finish line, and it’s like ‘this is it! I’m done after this!’ So you get this huge burst of energy and you think ‘just get me over this line, so I can go lie down for 10 years.’
When and where are you happiest?
In the decathlon when I cross the line of the 1,500, and I find my favourite spot, which is just left of the finish line on the grass behind the scoreboard, so no one can see me die. That’s when I’m happiest.
What is your greatest fear?
Being in open water. I like swimming, going to a pool, I love hot tubs, and I can go in the ocean. But if someone’s like, ‘let’s go scuba diving’, no, I can’t do that. When I don’t know what’s below me, I’m scared.
What’s your greatest indulgence?
It’s got to be McDonald’s. It’s a guilty pleasure.
Really? How much McDonald’s are we talking?
I can’t reveal numbers. But let’s just say after a decathlon, it’s more times than any other food.
What is something you’d like to change about yourself?
I’ll set an internal goal for myself, and I feel like I have to do it, even if it’s to the detriment of whatever I’m doing at the moment. Like, at practice it might be ‘today, I’m going to take off in the pole vault.’ And if I don’t accomplish it … one time we moved on to training the hurdles and in the middle of hurdles, I was like ‘no, we have to stop and go back to pole vault.’ I’ll ruin my entire practice just to go do this one random thing.
Are there certain events in the decathlon you relish or dread?
I love pole vault; it’s the most fun. It’s one of the most difficult events, but I’m not bad at it. Flying in the air and landing on a mat is just fun, suits the inner kid in me. Hurdles, I hate the most. A lot of decathletes will say the 1,500 – and I also hate the 1,500 – but I’m just too tall for the hurdles, and it’s frustrating, because my stride lengths are longer than the distance I need in hurdles, so I’m shuffle-stepping and it’s awkward. I like to be free when I’m running, not bound by these hurdles.
What frustrates you?
Not taking off in pole vault. Pole vault directly affects my mood in practice.
Is there another sport skill you wish you had?
I wish I could be great at hockey. I’m a big hockey fan and I played when I was younger. Any chance I get to skate and play hockey, I love it.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My biggest love has always been for video games. I relax to it, it’s fun, it’s where I hang out with all my friends, I compete. It satisfies all parts of my brain. It’s always been super important to me.
What’s your game?
League of Legends.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I guess being the world champion, sixth-best ever score, is a good answer? I almost said an achievement in League of Legends – like hitting a certain rank in the game. It’s close for me, though. I feel like objectively, probably being a world champion is my greatest.
What’s your fondest childhood memory?
Me and my [three] brothers playing video games together, all of us enjoying ourselves.
What’s your most treasured possession?
My computer. I need video games in my life, so I need my computer.
What trait do you most dislike in others?
When someone says something but can’t back it up.
Any favourite books or authors?
When I was young I enjoyed a series by Darren Shan called Cirque du Freak, about vampires. Usually when I go to meets, I bring my laptop or I’m on my phone, but I brought books to this meet in Budapest and read two. The first was The Whisper Man, a true-crime book recommended by my training partner. I like horror. too, so the other was Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. It worked well for me during this competition, so I’m a book man now.
If not a decathlete what other occupation might you have pursued?
When I was young, I always wanted to be a profiler or a detective. I went to school for undergrad law [at York University]. I’ve always been fascinated by true crime.
What do you value most in your friends?
A good friend will call you out when you need to be called out. I don’t want a lot of yes-men around me.
What do you consider your greatest regret?
I’m very happy with where I am now – so it doesn’t feel like a real regret – but I used to be good at video games to the point where I probably could have pursued it professionally. I decided on track instead, but I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like. My friend was a pro, and he moved to California and it’s a completely different life. I used to get paid to play for a while, when I was 16, 17, playing League of Legends. Then this track thing got in the way.
Sounds like that choice worked out okay. Would you pursue pro esports in the future?
No, I’m an old man now. I’m all washed up. And I’m not as interested in that idea any more.
What is your motto?
Hakuna Matata. I’m a pretty laid-back guy. I’m tolerable of things, and I just chill and do my thing.
What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
I always like personalized gifts. People have given me personal art and things like that.
What’s the best gift you’ve ever given?
Viking helmets to my brothers. [They are part Norwegian and have been trading Norse gifts].
What’s the most difficult thing about decathlon?
Getting through it without ruining it, being able to move on from a bad event and not let it spiral. If I have had a bad long jump and jump 20 centimetres less, it’s only like 40 points in the grand scheme of things. It doesn’t matter. But if you let it get you, your next event is bad, and then your next event too, and soon your whole decathlon is ruined. That’s the hardest thing about decathlon. Another is that we compete so infrequently – just once, twice a year. To have only a couple of times a year to show up, and not mess up, while doing 10 different events is hard to do. The margin of error we have while trying to prove ourselves to the world is small.