Road To The Olympic Games

Track and Field

Damian Warner named 2019 Athletics Canada combined events athlete of year

Decathlete Damian Warner was honoured Friday by Athletics Canada as combined events athlete of the year after medalling at three major events in 2019, while Moh Ahmed's bronze-medal effort in the world 5,000-metre final was named most outstanding performance.

Moh Ahmed's comeback effort in world 5,000m final recognized as top performance

Canadian decathlete Damian Warner, pictured in the 110-metre hurdles at last year's track and field world championships in Qatar, is the 2019 Athletics Canada combined events athlete of the year. (Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images/File)

Winning decathlon's Hypo Meeting for a fifth time, repeating as Pan Am champion and capturing world championship bronze in a span of six months is impressive on its own.

But Damian Warner did all of that competing on two bad ankles in 2019, an achievement Athletics Canada deemed worthy of the Lyle Sanderson Award by announcing the London, Ont., native as Combined Events Athlete of the Year on Friday.

Warner, 30, proclaimed to be in the best shape of his life in April after the sports world was halted a month earlier by the coronavirus outbreak, leading to the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics this summer and subsequent rescheduling to July 2021.

"I think I'll just be a little bit healthier with one more year, I imagine," the 2016 Olympic bronze medallist, who sprained each ankle in the 12 months ahead of worlds last October, told CBC Sports in April. "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."

In May 2019, Warner amassed a season world-leading 8,711 points in Götzis, Austria, to beat Grenada's Lindon Victor and Maicel Uibo of Estonia a year after breaking his own Canadian record with 8,795 points.

Warner led Victor by 122 points entering the final discipline before crossing the finish line in four minutes, 37.39 seconds in the 1,500, nearly 20 seconds ahead of his closest competitor and finishing 238 points clear of Victor overall.

Less than three months later, Warner closed with solid performances in the javelin and 1,500 to successfully defend his Pan Am title in Peru while battling a bone spur in his left ankle.

This time, he finished with 8,513 points, nearly 300 ahead of Victor, while fellow Canadian Pierce LePage was third with 8,161.

"I'm liking how it's progressing and I'm liking how it's feeling going into [worlds at] Doha," he said. "I think that I'm ready for a bigger score there."

WATCH | Damian Warner wins world bronze in decathlon:

Damian Warner finishes third in overall points in the decathlon, while fellow Canadian Pierce LePage comes in fifth in Doha, Qatar. 13:13

Warner sat second entering the final event at worlds in Qatar but faded down the stretch after taking an early lead in the 1,500, placing ninth and third overall.

The bronze was Warner's third career world medal after the two-time Olympian collected silver in 2015 and bronze two years earlier.

Germany's Niklas Kaul became the youngest decathlon medallist ever at the world championships, winning gold at 21 years old over Uibo.

"These last six weeks leading up to this decathlon [have] been a bit rough for many reasons," Warner said, "but I'm happy that the season's over and I can regroup and get ready for the big push next year."

Ahmed's gutsy run 'a stepping stone'

Tired of failed podium finishes and what-if moments on track's biggest stage, Moh Ahmed knew it was time to make a move.

The Canadian runner worked his way to the front of the pack with 500 metres left in the men's 5,000 world final at a hot and humid Khalifa International Stadium last Oct. 3 in Doha, Qatar.

Ahmed stumbled 100 metres later after being clipped, dropped to fifth with 150 to go before surging on the straightaway to finish in bronze position in 13 minutes 1.11 seconds, his first medal in the event at a major championship.

Eight months later, Athletics Canada has recognized the 29-year-old's feat as the most outstanding performance of 2019 by awarding Ahmed the Cal D. Bricker Memorial Trophy.

WATCH | Moh Ahmed battles back to win 5,000-metre bronze:

Canadian Moh Ahmed reaches the podium with a time of 13 minutes 1.11 seconds. 3:03

"It's definitely surreal," he told Scott Russell of CBC Sports minutes after the race while trying to catch his breath. "I told myself 'we don't want to be a passenger. We want to make moves.'

"I was sort of boxed in and I somehow snuck right through on the inside, took the lead with three laps to go and I said, 'F-it, let's go.' I almost had a medal in 2016 [at the Olympics in Rio], 2017 I fell off a little bit, 2018 was a terrible year for me and I said, 'Not again.' with 150 [metres] to go [at worlds].

"Third is good. This is a stepping stone," added Ahmed, who was looking ahead to 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics before it was postponed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic and rescheduled to July 2021.

CBC Sports analyst Dave Moorcroft, who ran a world-record 13:00.41 in 1982, said it takes "great courage and determination" to fight back as Ahmed did over the final 100 metres.

"He dragged the finish out of most of the field and showed amazing decision-making," Moorcroft said. "He was brilliant tactically."

WATCH | Ahmed: Canada's most decorated distance runner:

After getting a taste of the podium at the world championships, Somalia-born Canadian Moh Ahmed is now looking for a Canadian long distance first — a medal at the Olympic Games. 5:11

Moorcroft noted Ahmed has arrived as a serious medal contender and wondered on that October day if the Somalia-born, St. Catharines, Ont.-raised runner was on the verge of "something special" come Tokyo.

"Medal contenders have a different mindset and aura, and I believe Moh has that," said the two-time Commonwealth Games champion. "He is now not just a fast runner but also a great racer and he has to believe he can take that to the next level."

Ahmed, who trains under coach Jerry Schumacher with the Bowerman Track Club in Portland, Ore., placed sixth in the 2017 world final in 13:35.43 and ran a season-best 12:58.16 in June 2019 at the Diamond League's Golden Gala in Rome.

Athletics Canada will announce its final three awards Saturday:

  • 12 p.m. ET — Track athlete of the year (Phil A. Edwards Memorial Trophy)
  • 1 p.m. – Field athlete of the year (F.N.A Rowell Trophy)
  • 2 p.m. - Athlete of the year (Jack W. Davies Trophy)

This week's other winners:

  • U18 athlete of the Year (Myrtle Cook Trophy): Abdullahi Hassan, middle-distance running
  • U 20 athlete of the Year (Eric E. Coy Trophy): Trinity Tutti, discus/shot put
  • Development coach of the year (Jane and Gerry Swan Awards): Besnik Mece, track and field
  • Coach of the year (Dr. Doug Clement Awards): Gerry Dragomir, track and field
  • University athlete of the year (Dr. Fred Tees Memorial Trophy): Pierce LePage, decathlon
  • Off track athlete of the year (Fred Begley Memorial Trophy): Evan Dunfee, race walking
  • Para athlete of the year in wheelchair events (Chantal Petitclerc Award): Brent Lakatos
  • Para athlete of the year in ambulatory events (Arnold Boldt Award): Nathan Riech, middle-distance events

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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