By Lori Ewing
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Damian Warner has been on a relentless quest to be the best decathlete in history for more than a decade and his Olympic gold medal in Tokyo was just one goal ticked off along the way.
After a heartbreaking hamstring injury knocked him out of the world championships last July, the 33-year-old Canadian – who this weekend will look to extend his record of victories at Hypo-Meeting in Gotzis, Austria to seven – and coach Gar Leyshon believe the world record is well within reach. It might take a “perfect decathlon” to get it.
“A long time ago, we believed that we could be a decathlete that scores over 9000 points,” Warner told Reuters. “And along the way, there’s been a lot of people who have said, ‘I’m not sure if that’s going to be a possibility.’ Thankfully, Gar and I were right on that standpoint.”
In Tokyo, Warner became the fourth man in history to crack the 9,000-point barrier.
“And we believe that we have all the right events to make a challenge at the world record. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy or you can set a date and say it’s going to happen here. We just believe that if I’m healthy and I get the right circumstances that I can be capable of putting up a score that high.”
Leyshon and Dennis Nielsen were once Warner’s high school English teachers before introducing him to track and field, and eventually the decathlon, learning the event by watching YouTube videos and attending clinics. Leyshon believed Warner could be the best virtually from day one.
“There was this unspoken thing we had,” said Leyshon. “And over the years, I’ve seen nothing that makes me think otherwise.
“Then in 2018, our goals we talked about very clearly: Olympic gold. World champion. World record. So he’s only achieved one of those three things.”
Warner’s score in Tokyo was 108 points shy of Frenchman Kevin Mayer’s world record of 9,126.
The points difference is equal to three bars higher in pole vault or high jump, or “Usain Bolt times” in the 100 metres, Warner said.
“(But) the luxury of the decathlon is that there’s 10 events, so you don’t have to do it all in one, you just have to be a little bit better in all them,” he said.
Warner left plenty of points on the board in Tokyo, in the high jump, shot put, 400 and 1,500 metres, Leyshon said, adding that he has improved significantly this season in discus and pole vault.
Leyshon preaches “raising the floor” rather than raising the ceiling, making incremental gains across the board to remove the roller-coaster element of the 10-discipline decathlon and produce a more even performance.
“And when it’s a great day you break through the ceiling,” he said.
A decathlon cannot be won on one spectacular performance like a game-winning touchdown, but it certainly can be lost on a disastrous one.
“There’s a million ways to lose the decathlon,” Leyshon said.
A perfect decathlon, Warner said, would be achieving personal bests in all 10 disciplines.
“I don’t know if it has ever really been done, you’d like to think that you can be the first person,” said the world silver and double bronze medallist.
Warner is keen to get a decathlon under his belt both as a gauge of where he is at ahead of August’s World Championships in Budapest, and a reminder to those who counted him out after the disastrous worlds in Eugene last year.
Nike did not renew his contract after the worlds. He has since signed an apparel deal with Lululemon, but buys his own shoes.
The worlds also killed Warner’s momentum.
“So I want to get back onto that train, and just kind of show myself and everybody else that I’m still here,” he said. “Just because that happened doesn’t mean I’m going away.”
(Reporting by Lori Ewing; Editing by Toby Davis)