Track and Field

With golden dream deferred, Damian Warner finds silver linings in Olympic delay

Tokyo 2020 was supposed to be the culmination of a natural progression to Damian Warner’s career. But with the Summer Games postponed, the 30-year-old is trying to look on the bright side.

Canadian decathlon star eyeing progression from bronze at 2016 Rio Games

Canada's Damian Warner poses with his bronze medal from the 2019 world athletics championships in Qatar. The 30-year-old was hoping to use that podium appearance as a launching pad for the Tokyo Games. (Nariman El-Mofty/The Associated Press)

Tokyo 2020 was supposed to be the culmination of a natural progression to Damian Warner's career.

The Canadian decathlete, now 30 years old, made his Olympic debut at the London 2012 Games, where he surprised himself en route to a fifth-place finish. Four years later, Warner moved up a couple spots, earning bronze in Rio de Janeiro.

Tokyo was shaping up to be Warner's time to break through for gold. That goal is now on hold for a year after the 2020 Games were postponed to July next year because of public health concerns relating to the coronavirus pandemic.

But the London, Ont., native is trying to find a silver lining.

"We can make this a positive thing — it doesn't have to be negative. Our goals and dreams are the same, they're just postponed a little bit," Warner said on Instagram live with CBC Sports' Anastasia Bucsis on Wednesday.

Coming off his bronze-medal performance at the 2019 world athletics championships in Qatar, Warner was feeling good heading into 2020. He'd sprained each of his ankles in the 12 months ahead of worlds, but recovered to be in the best shape of his life as he began gearing up for Tokyo.

"I think I'll just be a little bit healthier with one more year I imagine," Warner said. "From last year to this year my discus and shot put improved... so if I take another year to continue to hone and continue to improve those skills, I think they can be even better next year."

WATCH | Warner discusses adjustments with Olympics postponed:

'We can make this a positive thing': Damian Warner on bright side of Olympic postponement

3 years ago
Duration 1:10
Olympic bronze medallist in decathlon Damian Warner didn't dwell on disappointment, but instead chooses to focus on getting even better for a 2021 Olympics.

Warner was able to practice the throwing events once facilities began closing because of the pandemic, but even that isn't possible now because of social restrictions. Unsurprisingly, the toughest decathlon events to practice while quarantined are high jump, long jump and pole vault.

That doesn't necessarily mean his proficiency in each event will erode, though.

"Not to say I'm old, but I've been around the block a couple times now so I understand that taking the time off doesn't necessarily rob you of the skills that you have," Warner said.

WATCH | Warner details intricacies of decathlon:

Warner on the intricacies of winning the decathlon

3 years ago
Duration 2:46
Decathlete Damian Warner of London, Ont., made his Olympic debut in 2012. Four years later, Warner claimed bronze in Rio de Janeiro.

One issue Warner faces now is funding. His coach, Gar Leyshon, doubles as a high school teacher. Leyshon took a leave of absence in the lead-up to Tokyo to focus on training, but it is not financially viable for him to do so again.

There were also a number of donors who contributed to Warner and Leyshon's cause to allow the pair to focus on the task at hand. 

"One thing that I've learned in my two attempts at qualifying for the Olympics and this being my third is that you can't do it alone," Warner said. "With Gar taking a leave of absence we had a lot donations… now we can't go back to those people."

WATCH | Warner tries his hand at ASMR:

Damian Warner tries ASMR

3 years ago
Duration 2:40
Watch Canadian decathlete Damian Warner try the internet sensation ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response).

Still, Warner retains the advantage of having already qualified for Tokyo. That knowledge makes things easier, though the uncertainty surrounding the track schedule, even through 2022, remains a stressor.

In quarantine, Warner's taken up video games — specifically Call of Duty, Fortnite and Apex Legends — along with fellow national team members Pierce LePage, a known gamer, and others.

Looking back on his 2016 bronze, Warner said he couldn't assign one emotion to the achievement.

"As soon as I finished the competition it was disappointment, because just when I went into that competition I had really high expectations… Going into Tokyo 2020 I have that in my back pocket where I'm not going to the Games trying to get a medal or trying to get on the podium, I'm going there to win."

"That medal now is an opportunity because it allows me to go there and compete as I should."

That opportunity still remains — it's just one year behind schedule.

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