Damian Warner atop decathlon standings in injury return after Day 1 of Hypo Meeting
Olympic champ 1-2 with fellow Canadian LePage before final round Sunday in Austria
In his first decathlon since a hamstring injury ended his world championships last summer, Canadian Olympic champion Damian Warner is in first place with 4,531 points after Day 1 at the Hypo Meeting in Götzis, Austria.
He's back and looks to be in top form after 10 months of rehabilitation.
The 33-year-old from London, Ont., appeared confident and was consistent through the first five of 10 events in ideal conditions with temperatures hovering around 25 C under a bright sun and in front of a boisterous crowd.
"It was a tough day and tough week in the lead up to this," Warner said on the broadcast.
"This past week was a little bit of a struggle and you have questions about whether you're going to be able to finish. But you get here and you see the crowd and and competitors and fight. Luckily I'm still in the lead and I'll continue to fight."
The fan favourite in Götzis has won the annual meet a record seven times and each of the previous six.
WATCH | Warner chasing decathlon world record in Austria:
"This is an important meet to me and you always want to come out here to win and I've put myself in position to do that," Warner said.
"It won't be easy but I've been around for a long time and have fought before and I'm up for a fight tomorrow as well."
Canadians at the top
Fellow Canadian Pierce LePage is right behind Warner in second with 4,513.
Sunday's action begins with the 110-metre hurdles, followed by discus, pole vault, javelin and 1,500.
The two Canadians pushed each other from the outset Saturday, with LePage posting the fastest time in the opening 100 to take an early lead.
LePage crossed the finish line just ahead of Warner (10.29 seconds) in a personal-best 10.28. Warner's best is 10.12.
With fans clapping in unison after Warner encouraged them to cheer, he regained the lead from LePage, soaring 7.75 metres for the best distance in long jump.
He followed with a throw of 14.92 in shot put. LePage went 15.05 to creep closer to Warner at the top, with the latter holding a 34-point advantage entering the high jump.
🇨🇦 Damian Warner with a throw of 14.92m in shot put. <br><br>He’s still in first place after three events in Gotzis in Warner’s first decathlon since injury last summer. <br><br>Watch live on Austrian broadcaster here: <a href="https://t.co/TvVaQOpiFR">https://t.co/TvVaQOpiFR</a> <a href="https://t.co/nujo8odxao">pic.twitter.com/nujo8odxao</a>—@Devin_Heroux
Back and forth the two Canadians went soaring over the bar. Warner bowed out at two metres. LePage's six-foot-six frame gracefully flew over the bar repeatedly, racking up valuable points. He'd finish at 2.03.
Warner's lead over LePage was cut to six heading into the final event of Day 1.
🇨🇦 Pierce LePage is putting on quite the performance today as well. <br><br>Easily over 2.00m and just 30 points behind Warner for the lead. <br><br>LePage applying pressure and looking confident. Outstanding competition so far. <a href="https://t.co/DecNMcEfq4">pic.twitter.com/DecNMcEfq4</a>—@Devin_Heroux
Return to form in 400m
Perhaps the biggest test of opening day came when Warner took to the track for the 400, the event in which he injured his hamstring on the Hayward Field track at worlds last July in Eugene, Ore.
Leading and on pace to win his first world gold medal, Warner drew Lane 1 for his heat and it turned out to be disastrous.
WATCH | Warner seeking redemption at upcoming worlds in Budapest:
The explosive athlete powered through the first sharp turn but pulled up on the straightaway, knowing something was wrong. He crumpled to the track, grabbing his hamstring. Warner knew his decathlon was over. He was devastated.
A heartbroken Warner didn't wallow around for long. He was supposed to be out weeks but two weeks later was back jogging and he's been on a redemption tour since.
Coming into his first event since injury, Warner's coaches felt he was in the best shape of his career — this was the first chance to see their rehabilitation work and training put into practice and Warner, like he has so many times in his career, did not disappoint.
On Saturday in Götzis, the Olympic champion showed poise and resilience, charging in Lane 4 and tackling the event that took him down last July and posting a solid time of 47.76 to ensure he'd finish first on the day.
🇨🇦 Damian Warner completes his first 400m since he injured his hamstring in this event last summer. <br><br>A strong performance. Stops clocks in time of 47.76. <br><br>Resilient to be sure. He’s back. Here’s the race. <a href="https://t.co/YOFyhKy6MG">pic.twitter.com/YOFyhKy6MG</a>—@Devin_Heroux
"I'm more invested now than ever," he told CBC Sports recently.
"I think that there's a lot that I still need to accomplish and still want to accomplish. Of course, age is a thing for me, but I don't really see age. I don't really feel it. I feel better now than I did 10 years ago."
LePage wraps up stellar day
LePage stopped the clock in 48.01 in the 400 to stay in second spot.
It will be a riveting conclusion Sunday in Austria with the Canadians on top going into the final events.
For LePage, this is a continuation of strong international performances. His breakthrough moment came during those same worlds Warner got injured last summer, when LePage captured silver.
It was his first medal at worlds, a massive moment for the native of Whitby, Ont., who had been hovering around the podium on the big stage for a while.