Damian Warner scaled the heights of athletic excellence last summer, capturing an Olympic title in the decathlon – the event that unofficially crowns the “world’s greatest athlete.”
But the 32-year-old from London, Ont., hasn’t lost even the smallest bit of his drive. With the goal posts for success constantly shifting, Warner continues to find reasons to be excited, and ways to push himself.
This weekend, for example, Warner can’t wait to see how fast he can run.
Warner will compete in the heptathlon at the world indoor track and field championships in Belgrade, Serbia. The indoor event has a 60-metre sprint instead of the decathlon’s 100, in which Warner holds the unofficial decathlon world record of 10.12 seconds.
“Part of my nervousness that I have is I’d like to see where some of these events are, because it’s hard to tell in practice,” Warner said in a phone interview from Belgrade. “I’ve only run the 60 a couple times [ever]. I know I’m much faster than my personal best, but I don’t know what time I’m capable of running.
“Hopefully I’m able to go out there and run a time that’s much faster than what I’ve ran in the past.”
Warner hasn’t raced a 60 since 2018. Before that, he hadn’t run one since 2014.
Just being able to travel and compete, Warner said, feels like a luxury. Grounded by Canada’s tight travel restrictions amid COVID-19, Warner spent the better part of the past two years training in the frigid, rundown Farquharson Arena when Western University closed – making his golden Olympic Games all the more remarkable.
These are the first world indoor championships in four years. Originally scheduled for March of 2020 in Nanjing, China, they were one of the first international events postponed because of the pandemic. Slated for 2021 in Nanjing, they were scrapped once again.
“Certainly, considering the last couple of years whenever you get the opportunity to travel and compete, it’s always something that you look forward to, and you don’t take it for granted, because you know it could stop at any point.
“So yeah, it’s certainly a lot of fun, and I think that all the athletes that are on the team are really happy to be here.”
Warner took three months off after the Olympics. He cherished the time spent with his son Theo, who turned 1 last Friday.
“He’s been walking since nine months, now he’s climbing on top of the coach, running around throwing balls and stuff around,” Warner laughed. “It’s crazy how fast he’s growing up.”
He also dedicated a lot of time to media interviews and sponsorship obligations. He threw out the first pitch at a Blue Jays game, stood at field level during the CFL Grey Cup game in Hamilton, and attended Raptors games. But after the layoff he was “eager” to be back on the track.
“But then at the same time, it was still like a little bit tricky for the first little while to find the kind of motivation just because the world championships [this summer in Eugene, Ore.] is still so far away,” he said. “Competitions like this help break that up. So we can have little checkpoints throughout the season, and it’s not just focused on something that’s going to happen in July.”
While Warner will be gunning for the world title this summer, the world indoors, he said, isn’t necessarily the biggest priority this season, but it’s great for preparation and to gauge where he’s at.
“It’s also a competition that we can kind of get our feet wet again, because since Tokyo, we’ve been just training, and that can get stale after a little while,” he said. “So, it’s a cool opportunity to compete, to test out where some of our events are and see what needs to be adjusted as we move forward. But we’re certainly here to win at the same time.”
Warner said he and coach Gar Leyshon have put a lot of energy into the jumping events – mainly pole vault, but also high jump and long jump – believing there were a lot of points to be gained there. Warner’s long jump in Tokyo would have earned him a bronze medal in the men’s open long jump event.
Warner’s rival and the world decathlon record holder Kevin Mayer of France won’t compete in Serbia because of an injury. The Canadian won silver behind Mayer at the 2018 world indoors in Birmingham, England.
The Olympic champ leads an experienced team of 18 Canadian athletes this weekend.
Toronto middle-distance star Gabriela DeBues-Stafford has had an outstanding indoor season, shattering her own Canadian record in the 3,000 and 5,000 metres. Her 5,000 time is the fastest in the world this year. She’s ranked fifth in the 3,000, which will be contested in Serbia.
The women’s 4x400 relay – with a pool of runners including Natassha McDonald, Lauren Gale, Kyra Constantine, Micha Powell and Sage Watson – could climb the medal podium after their fourth-place finish in Tokyo.