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Damian Warner looks forward to test of defending Commonwealth gold

Decathlete Damian Warner will begin his Commonwealth Games title defence Sunday evening in Gold Coast, Australia, brimming with confidence after his Canadian record-setting performance last month in the indoor heptathlon.

Canadian record-holder in decathlon also eyeing overall points record at Games

Canadian decathlete Damian Warner is in Gold Coast, Australia, where he will attempt to defend his Commonwealth Games title. The 28-year-old likes his chances, given his recent performance and improvements in the pole vault and shot put since last year's fifth-place finish at the world championships. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images/File)

Fresh off a record-breaking performance at last month's world indoor track and field championships in Birmingham, England, Damian Warner will look to defend his Commonwealth Games title in the decathlon in Gold Coast, Australia.

The London, Ont., athlete's quest to repeat his success at the 2014 Games in Glasgow begins with the 100 metres at Carrara Stadium on Sunday at 8:05 p.m. ET, followed by long jump, shot put, high jump and the 400m. Day 2 of the decathlon Tuesday in Australia features the 110m hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw and 1,500m.

While repeating as champion means plenty to Warner, he also has an eye on the Games record of 8,663 points by Britain's Daley Thompson. Warner improved his Canadian record with a personal-best 8,695 at the 2015 world championships in Beijing.

"From an international major event perspective, there's never been a situation where I've had to defend a title," he told CBC Sports recently. "It's going to be a fun challenge and a nice way to test [myself] for scenarios going forward. I think if I compete the way I want to, I should be able to get that record."

Despite finishing in second in England, Warner appeared to be in top form, breaking Canadian Michael Smith's 25-year-old heptathlon record with personal bests in the 1,000m, pole vault, high jump and shot put.

Warner had previously shattered Smith's national and Pan Games decathlon marks in 2015.

Warner anticipates a higher level of competition in Australia with Ashley Bryant of the United Kingdom and Grenada's Kurt Felix, the 2014 Commonwealth silver and bronze medallists, respectively, at the top of the list.

Strides in pole vault, shot put

"He's a gamer," said Warner of the 26-year-old Bryant, who has a personal best of 8,163.

"If there's a big-time situation, he's going to bring the excitement, fun, jump far, throw far and be a tough competitor. Kurt Felix is extremely talented and last year scored over 8,500 points [a 8,509 personal best last June in Germany]. There's also Australia's Cedric Dubler. He's younger [at 23] and extremely talented, so I could see him putting something good together [on home soil].

"The other Canadians, Pierce [LePage] and Taylor [Stewart], who knows what those guys could score in situations where there's some excitement."

Four years ago, Warner secured the men's title at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, placing fifth in the closing 1,500 to beat Bryant by more than 100 points for his first win of the 2014 season.

Reigning Olympic decathlon bronze medallist Damian Warner begins his Commonwealth title defence in the 100 metres at Carrara Stadium. Last month, he broke Michael Smith’s Canadian indoor heptathlon record. (Kevin Light/CBC Sports/File)

It came after he tore the plantaris in his right leg, a calf muscle that runs from the femur to the Achilles tendon, while running in the lead up to the Games.

"In a way, it's one of the better things that has happened to me because I learned that you don't necessarily have to work extremely hard and push yourself [in training]. You just have to work smart," Warner said.

"There's this big perception that it's all blood, sweat and tears in sports but it's doing things correctly, working on things technically and doing just what's required to perform at a high level in the event."

Warner, who moved his training base to Calgary late in 2016 to work with new coach Les Gramantik, believes he has made the biggest strides in pole vault and shot put since battling through a stomach bug to finish fifth at the world championships last summer.

A physically drained Warner cleared a season-best 4.70m in pole vault in London before throwing 13.45m in shot put the next day. His personal bests are 4.90 and 14.74, respectively.

Warner didn't want his 2017 season to end with the disappointment at worlds, so he entered the Decastar in Talence, France, in mid-September and captured gold with 8,252 points.

He said he has received improved results from having a more consistent training regiment, which has translated to increased comfort in his takeoff and jumps in the pole-vault event. Warner has also made a technical change in shot put from a shuffle to a more traditional glide.

"I'm at the point in my career where I'm starting to understand most of the events a lot better. It's about trying to execute better technically and showing myself that what I do in practice I can do in competition," said Warner, a track runner in high school.

Warner broke through on the international scene as a decathlete in 2012 with a fifth-place finish in his Olympic debut in London, the second-best Summer Games finish ever by a Canadian decathlete. He also won bronze at the 2016 Rio Games for Canada's first Olympic medal in decathlon since 1988. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Faceoff.com. Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc

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