Damian Warner: London decathlete goes for world-championship gold after battling illness under quarantine

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LONDON, ENGLAND — It was 48 hours that Forest City native Damian Warner should have spent taking care of his body and mind ahead of his gold-medal chase.

Instead, he was curled up in his hotel bed, quarantined for two days as he fought off the ravages of a stomach virus that has swept through the Canadian team’s hotel.

Now, barely two days since his quarantine ended, the reigning world silver medallist is remarkably within striking distance of a medal in the decathlon at the world track and field championships, sitting fourth after Day 1.

“I have a good team around me so they try to reaffirm that everything’s going to be OK and I can work through it,” said Warner.

“But it’s tough. You work the whole season to come to this competition and I’m healthy and we did an awesome job leading up, and something like a bug that’s going around the hotel that throws you off, and you can’t really prepare for that kind of stuff. That was really tough to deal with.”

Warner’s illness comes amid a string of horrible luck for Canada in London. It began when sprint star Andre De Grasse and Olympic high jump champion Derek Drouin withdrew with injuries, and continued with news of nine Canadian athletes and coaches falling ill.

Warner finished Day 1 with 4,347 points, just 14 points behind third-place Rico Freimuth of Germany.

World silver medallist Melissa Bishop clinched her spot in Sunday’s 800-metre final after finishing second in her semifinal. And Crystal Emmanuel raced to seventh in the women’s 200 metres in Canada’s first appearance in a women’s world 200 final in 34 years.

Competing in the shadow of American superstar Ashton Eaton for years, Warner won world bronze in 2013 and silver in 2015. But when Eaton, the world record-holder, retired in January, the door to the top of the podium swung wide open.

It appeared to be Warner’s for the taking. But the 27-year-old from London, Ont., woke up on Tuesday feeling nauseated, his stomach tied in knots.

“I went to the track and did a workout, and was feeling warm and dizzy and very unco-ordinated,” Warner said.

He returned to his room for a nap and woke up with full-blown viral gastroenteritis. Thursday was his first day back on the track.

“It was a little bit rough when I came out to do my pre-meet shakeout (Thursday). I felt terrible,” Warner said. “Still wasn’t over it fully (Friday). I’m hoping with some sleep I can come back and feel like a brand new Damian.”

Warner got off to a rough start Friday. He won the 100 metres, but his time of 10.50 was well off his best of 10.15. He plummeted to sixth with a sub-par shot put that was more than a metre off his personal best, and remained in sixth after the long jump.

During the afternoon break in action, the bronze medallist from last summer’s Rio Olympics had a shower and took a nap, and then gave himself a pep talk.

“I tried to tell myself no matter how I’m feeling, I know I can high jump, so just try to come back and be a completely new person, and just try to get the crowd involved as much as possible and that’s what I did and I was able to jump pretty well and I was happy for that,” Warner said.

He cleared 2.02 metres with a decent high jump effort. He was still sixth, but just 60 points out of third. He was second in the 400 in a season’s best 47.47, good enough to vault him into fourth.

France’s Kevin Mayer led at the decathlon’s halfway point with 4,478 points, followed by Kai Kazmirek of Germany (4,421).

Day 2 has the 110-metre hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and the 1,500 metres.

“(Saturday) is not as physically demanding as today, so I kind of just tell myself that I got through today fine, the 400 was probably the biggest worry that I had, and I’m still standing right now,” Warner said. “Just come out (Saturday) and take care of business.

“(Saturday’s) going to be one day farther away from the sickness, so I’ll be one day better.”

Public Health England reported Thursday night that 40 athletes, all from the same central London hotel where Canada is housed, have fallen ill.

Canada has been hard hit. Eric Gillis dropped out of the marathon around the 30-kilometre mark, three days after being ill. Sprinter Aaron Brown had been quarantined for a stomach bug, while Brittany Crew’s coach missed her sixth-place performance in shot put while quarantined.

Toronto’s Emmanuel, Canada’s first finalist in the women’s 200 since Angela Bailey in 1983, ran 22.60. Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands won gold in 22.05.

“I just want to let everyone know that Canada’s still on the map in track and field — the women,” Emmanuel said. “So my first final, (I want) to show the girls that anything that you aim for you can go for.”

A night after almost falling in her 800 heat, Bishop ran a smart, safe race, tucking in behind American Ajee Wilson to finish second in her semifinal. The 29-year-old from Eganville, Ont., ran 1:59.56 for the sixth fastest on the night. South African Caster Semenya clocked the fastest time of 1:58.90.

Bishop said she followed coach Dennis Fairall’s race plan “to a tee.” Fairall isn’t in London because of his failing health. The 64-year-old has progressive supranuclear palsy, a degenerative brain disease.

“It’s tough. I definitely miss his presence,” Bishop said. “To look over and not see him there, it’s hard, but I know he’s only a phone call away.”

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