Damian Warner won bronze in decathlon at the world championships but still has a lot of work to do if he wants to realize his bigger dream: an Olympic medal in Rio.
It always seems to come down to javelin for Canada’s Damian Warner.
The very same event that ended his Olympic medal chances in London is the one that got him a bronze medal in decathlon at the world championships in Moscow on Sunday.
At the 2012 Olympics, Warner was sitting third when Cuba’s Leonel Suarez recorded a monster javelin toss – a decathlon Olympic record of 77 metres.
The way points tally up in this two-day, 10-event sport made it all but impossible for Warner to run his way onto the podium in the final event, the 1,500 metres.
This time around, it was Warner who had the winning toss. It wasn’t a record but, at 64.67 metres, it was a personal best by almost two metres and enough to lift him into third place with a margin he could easily defend in the 1,500 metres. Jumping from 18th to third at the worlds championships in just two years is an enormous improvement for the 23-year-old from London, Ont.
But it’s still not enough to realize his even bigger dream: an Olympic medal in 2016 Rio.
“Damian was good on the weekend but he wasn’t great,” said his head coach, Gar Leyshon.
That an event where he set two personal bests (in the shot put and javelin) and matched his PBs in two more (pole vault and 1,500) could be described as good, but not great, shows just how high expectations are for Warner.
He was fifth at the London Olympics, which was only the 10th time he had competed in the event. His bronze medal this past weekend came in his 13th decathlon.
“His long jump was disappointing and it has been a thorn in the side for him,” Leyshon said in an email interview from Moscow. “We need to make some changes there.”
Long jump is the one track and field event that Warner excelled at as a teenager. But, since graduating from high school and taking up the decathlon, he’s somehow lost his feel for that event.
He’s got the speed and the pop but can’t translate it into the distances he needs to achieve.
Unfortunately, it’s particularly important to do well in the event. As Dennis Nielsen, one of Warner’s other coaches, puts it: win the points in the 100 metres and long jump and you win the decathlon.
It’s not quite that simple but American Ashton Eaton – the world record holder in decathlon – won both those events along with the 400 metres on his way to Olympic gold in London.
At the worlds, Eaton was first in the 100 metres and top three in the long jump. Warner was just behind him in the 100 metres but well back in long jump with more than a dozen other athletes putting in better jumps.
But his long jump difficulties also point to one of Warner’s most important strengths in this gruelling two-day event: fortitude.
Long jump comes early on the first day, just the second of the 10 events, so a bad result can easily mess with an athlete’s head.
“I was unhappy after the long jump and I kind of felt like my energy was going down a little bit,” Warner said after winning his medal on Sunday. “But, as I’ve seen here, just by pushing through I can finish on the podium.”
His ability to come off a disappointment and post a personal best in the very next event, the shot put, is one of the things Warner’s coaches are most impressed by.
“That mental toughness was exactly what he needed,” Leyshon said. “He stayed the course and didn’t get down and when the other guys faltered he stepped up in javelin and hit that one PB he needed to win a medal.”
In the 110-metre hurdles, Warner lost focus and clipped the last few, but still managed to hang on for the third-fastest finish at 13.96 seconds.
“I was in the lead,” he said. “Then I kind of glanced at Ashton in my peripherals.”
At the Olympics, he also got distracted by others in the race and didn’t put in the performance he felt he could have.
“I think it’s just (a matter of) keeping focused and running my own race to the finish line and forgetting about everybody else in the competition,” Warner said.
Maintaining his focus, improving in the long jump and pole vault and continuing to improve on his throws are all things that Warner will be working on with his coaches as he looks ahead to his next events.
He’ll compete in his final decathlon of the season, the Decastar in Talence, France in September. After that, he’s in for a long building period towards the really big events – the 2015 Pan Am Games, the worlds again and the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Leyshon, who has coached Warner since his days of playing basketball in high school, is certain he has the physical ability and drive to be a winner on the biggest of stages.
“It’s really just a matter of him being able to put it all together,” Leyshon said.
That takes time and experience.
“By the time an elite sprinter is 23 he might have 200 races under his belt,” said Leyshon. “At 23, Damian just completed his 13th decathlon.”
Toronto Star - Kerry Gillespie