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Track and Field

'You need everything to be happy': Damian Warner leaves Calgary for London, Ont.

​To be the best in the world, Damian Warner believes he needs to train where he's most happy. And so the 28-year-old decathlete is leaving his training base in Calgary and moving back home to London, Ont., to train with Gar Leyshon, the high school coach who first introduced him to track and field.

Canadian Olympic decathlete returning to train with his high school coach

Damian Warner, shown competing at the 44th Hypo Meeting in May of 2018, is shifting his training base from Calgary to his hometown of London, Ont. (Dietmar Stiplovsek/AFP/Getty Images/File)

To be the best in the world, Damian Warner believes he needs to train where he's most happy.

And so the 28-year-old decathlete is leaving his training base in Calgary and moving back home to London, Ont., to train with Gar Leyshon, the high school coach who first introduced him to track and field.

"I made the decision a month ago officially, but I've been thinking about it for a little while, and during that time I was talking to Gar and people in my family about some of my thoughts, and ultimately I decided I think it's going to be the best decision," Warner said. "Calgary had its advantages and disadvantages, but I think ultimately it comes down to being around family and friends."

Warner moved to Calgary to train with multi-events coach Les Gramantik — he was the longtime coach of former decathlon star Michael Smith — a couple of months after his bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. He had success in Calgary, smashing his own Canadian record in the decathlon in May.

But something was missing.

Warner missed both his family and the team of coaches in London he said had virtually become family: Leyshon, Vicki Croley, Dave Collins, Dennis Nielsen and physio Dave Zelibka.

"That's one of the things that Gar has talked about a lot, buying in 100 per cent, and to me that means you have to be happy, you have to enjoy what you're doing," said Warner, who was named summer male athlete of the year at the 41st Canadian Sports Awards on Thursday night in Ottawa.

"That's not to say I lost joy at any point, I love the decathlon, but you need everything to be happy. And being around family and friends and having people I enjoy being around and believe in, that's ultimately what's going to lead me to my goals."

Leyshon will take a leave of absence from his high school to be Warner's coach in the leadup to this summer's world championships in Doha and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. They're coaching team will include Croley (hurdles), Collins and Doug Wood (pole vault), and Nielsen (throws).

'It's an arms race'

"The world record has been broken three times since Damian started, in the decathlon, more times than any other speed and power event in the world," Leyshon said. "And so, it's an arms race. If you're going to be the best in the world, and that's always been Damian's goal and it's always been my goal for Damian, not just to be the best in the world but the best all-time, to do that, everything has to be perfect.

"So it's not just about the Xs and Os. There's the emotional side of things, there's the psychological side of things, there's a social side of things that he wasn't getting in Calgary. Damian has been in the sport long enough that he knows what works and what doesn't work."

Warner's goal remains breaking the world record, and winning world and Olympic gold medals.

Kevin Mayer of France broke American Ashton Eaton's world decathlon last weekend, scoring 9,126. Rather than feel discouraged, Warner, whose Canadian record is 8,795, said Mayer's performance makes him even more motivated.

"It's encouraging because I've always had a goal to break the world record, it's always something I believed that I could do, and Kevin's score doesn't necessarily (change that), because when I envisioned myself getting the world record, it was more points than he just scored," Warner said. "Now it just makes it a little bit more realistic in a sense like 'OK, if you want it you have to go get it.' That's pretty exciting for me."

Leyshon pointed out a move home to London made far more sense financially as well. Warner was just one of numerous Olympic and professional athletes who make their home in Calgary, the coach pointed out.

"Here in London, he's a representative of the whole city. So coming back he can get the kind of support he wasn't getting in Calgary," Leyshon said. "You can't run a world-class program on the $30 grand a year that you get as a very top athlete from Athletics Canada.

"Reality is you can't train around a hockey rink and expect to be the best in the world, and you can't do it on the cheap, and you can't do it with volunteers. The whole program has to be more professional, which means more money."

Leyshon said they'll do fundraising in London to help support the ambitious schedule they've drawn up for Warner this season, including about 12 weeks of warm-weather training down south.

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