For Damian Warner, hearing himself described as an “Olympic champion” or “Olympic gold medalist” has yet to grow old.
“Not right now, no,” he says. “It’s pretty nice to hear.”
It’s unlikely that it ever will grow old.
It was a week ago Thursday when Canadians watched with bated breath as the London, Ont., native clinched the gold medal in the decathlon in Tokyo, shattering the Olympic record with 9,018 points following an arduous two-day, 10 event competition.
The achievement made him the first Canadian to win gold in the decathlon and just the fourth person in history to top 9,000 points.
Three days later, the country marveled as Warner waved the Canadian flag as he entered Olympic Stadium as flag-bearer during the closing ceremony.
Now a week removed, the 31-year-old has had some time to reflect on his victory — the culmination of years of training, years of sacrifice, and “years of blood, sweat and tears,” as Warner’s assistant coach and former teacher at Montcalm Secondary School, Dennis Nielsen, told 980 CFPL last week.
“Going into this decathlon, I felt like I was in a great mental space all year,” Warner told Mike Stubbs in an interview which aired Friday.
“Just working with my coaches and working with the guy that I (have) for mental coaching, (Jean Francois) Menard. I feel like we just had a plan, we knew the routines and stuff that we wanted to do.”
Warner started off his gold-medal-winning day with an Olympic decathlon record of 13.46 seconds in the 110-metre hurdles, then followed that up with a solid third-place showing in discus, with a toss of 48.67 metres.
Day 1 saw Warner set an Olympic decathlon record in the long jump and tie his own decathlon best mark in the 100 metres.
In the final event, the 1,500 metres, Warner crossed the finish line in four minutes 31.08 seconds. Holding a commanding lead going into it, his time and fifth-place finish gave him 738 points, enough for the Olympic record.
Crossing the line, Warner says was confident that he had won the gold medal — “the next competitor had to beat me by like 48 seconds in the 1,500, and that’s a tough task for anybody to do” — but adds he wasn’t aware that he had surpassed 9,000 points, let alone set a new Olympic decathlon record.
“The thing that happens when you’re running those races is that the clock stops when the first person crosses the line, and there’s a guy that crossed the line right before me, so the clock stopped. I couldn’t really tell if it was like (4:33) or 35 or 30,” he said.
“It wasn’t until the score came up on the big screen that I saw, and I was like, ‘Oh!’ There was a thought in the back of my head, I was thinking that I missed it. So I was thankful that wasn’t the case.”
In the run up to the Olympics, Warner had spent the winter training with his coaches, including Nielsen and Gar Leyshon, in London’s empty and unheated Farquharson Arena, unable to use Western University’s facilities or travel stateside due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fast forward to Tokyo where, in contrast, things were a little too heated.
“Traditionally I like the heat. I’d much rather compete in really hot conditions as opposed to, like, really cold conditions,” Warner says.
“In Tokyo it was just extremely hot. And a lot of places where we were competing, with it being in the stadium, there’s not much shade. We had to find little things to do. Use ice vests and little bags of ice, just dumping water on our heads constantly.”
Canada finished 11th both in the official medal standings and the overall medal count, taking 24 medals overall including seven gold, six silver, and 11 bronze — the country’s largest medal haul at a summer Olympics that had no boycotts.
Of the seven gold medals won, four involved athletes from London, including Warner. The other Forest City champions include swimmer Maggie MacNeil, rower Susanne Grainger, and soccer stars Jessie Fleming and Shelina Zadorsky.
An Olympic gold medal and Olympic record to his name, and the Paris 2024 Olympics only three years away, Warner says he isn’t close to being done yet.
“We still believe that we can be the world record holder in the decathlon, that’s one of the goals that we have,” he says. Kevin Mayer of France currently holds the world record of 9,126 points set in 2018.
“We still want to win a world championship gold medal because that’s one of the things that is missing, and it would be really cool to go back in Paris and repeat,” he added.
“It’s just a great year for me. To score 8,995 and then 9,018 points in my two decathlons and finish the season healthy, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
— with files from The Canadian Press