Summer Sports

Decathlon champion Damian Warner named Canada's closing ceremony flag-bearer

Damian Warner, Canada's first Olympic decathlon champion, was chosen as the country's flag-bearer for the closing ceremony on Sunday in Tokyo. Coverage of the Tokyo 2020 closing ceremony begins Sunday at 6 a.m. ET on CBC-TV, and CBC Gem.

London, Ont., native became 1st Olympian to break 9,000-point barrier in decathlon

Canada's Damian Warner poses with his gold medal after winning the decathlon at the Tokyo Games. The 31-year-old from London, Ont., will carry the Canadian flag at the closing ceremony on Sunday. (Martin Meissner/The Associated Press)

Damian Warner is adding an 11th event in Tokyo.

Canada's first Olympic decathlon champion was chosen as the country's flag-bearer for the closing ceremony on Sunday in Tokyo. Coverage of the Tokyo 2020 closing ceremony begins Sunday at 6 a.m. ET on CBC-TV, and CBC Gem.

Warner set an Olympic best en route to his gold medal, becoming the first person to surpass the vaunted 9,000-point barrier in the 10-sport competition at the Games. His final score of 9,018 is the third-best of all-time.

"It is an honour of my lifetime to be named as the flag-bearer for the closing ceremony at these Games," Warner said.

"I remember going to Marnie [McBean, chef de mission] and she asked me the question. She asked me if I wanted to be the flag-bearer and I just had goosebumps all over my arms."

Warner, 31, completed a decathlon for the ages in the blistering Tokyo heat, setting three separate Olympic bests in the process. His long jump distance would have been good for bronze in the individual event, while his 100-metre dash time would have nearly qualified him for the final.

WATCH | Damian Warner named Canada's Tokyo 2020 closing ceremony flag-bearer:

He also reset the Olympic decathlon mark for the 110-metre hurdles.

"When you go through the whole battle of the decathlon and finally finish and you get the result you were looking for, there is no greater feeling. This is a dream come true," Warner said after winning gold.

"I've never been in this position when one of my dreams came true. I don't even know how to react right now."

The London, Ont., native won the honour amid a crowded field at an Olympics which saw Canada earn 23 medals — a record for the country at a non-boycotted Summer Games.

Swimmer Penny Oleksiak became the country's most decorated Olympian, adding three more medals to her haul of four at the Rio 2016 Games. Maggie Mac Neil won Canada's lone gold medal in the pool and added silver and bronze, while Kylie Masse had three podium appearances of her own.

But due to COVID-19, athletes were forced to leave the village 48 hours after the end of their competition, and swimming ended nearly one week ago. A scenario like in 2016 — when Oleksiak left Brazil, went to Canada's Wonderland, then flew back to carry the flag at the closing ceremony — was impossible in 2021.

An exception might have been made for Warner, whose event ended on Thursday, to remain in Tokyo.

WATCH | Damian Warner becomes 1st Canadian to win decathlon gold:

The Canadian women's soccer team became the country's first women's squad to win Olympic gold, led by captain Christine Sinclair and goalie Stephanie Labbé. Sinclair earned closing ceremony duties at London 2012 when the team won bronze.

Sprinter Andre De Grasse won his first Olympic gold medal, plus two more bronze for good measure to give him six so far in his career.

"It was an honour to watch and see athletes like Penny [Oleksiak] coming back to a Games and excelling once again and adding more medals to her collection," Warner said. "Moh [Ahmed], you have the women's eight [rowing], then you have [swimmer] Maggie Mac Neil from my hometown of London, Ont., coming to her first Games and walking away with a whole collection of medals.

"Andre De Grasse has been to many Games like myself and just shows the perseverance, working hard and you'll finally reach your goal. And then obviously the women's soccer team."

But ultimately the choice was Warner, victorious in one of the most prestigious events on the Olympic program.

"I remember when I was growing up, sitting on the couch and watching athletes like Donovan Bailey and Catriona Le May Doan with my mom and seeing how much effect they had on my life and inspired me," Warner said.

"And I have no doubt that these same athletes that compete here at these Games will have that same effect on Canadians all over. So it's my honour to be able to represent them at the closing ceremony."

Warner took a uniquely Canadian route to the top of the podium, too.

When Western University shuttered the training facility Warner was using due to the pandemic, he and coach Gar Leyshon pivoted to make an arrangement with the city of London to open a hockey rink for the Olympian — the nearly 70-year-old Farquharson Arena.

Warner and Leyshon outfitted the arena with all the equipment necessary to practise decathlon, like track, jumping pits and a throwing circle.

It all paid off as the Canadian upgraded his 2016 bronze to gold in Tokyo.

Now, he'll lead Team Canada into the closing ceremony of one of its most successful Summer Olympics ever.

WATCH | Damian Warner receives his gold medal at Tokyo 2020:

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


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