London decathlete Damian Warner discards illness-stricken worlds, focuses on final event

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Damian Warner is taking — for all you golfers out there — his mulligan.

The Canadian track and field star couldn’t stomach his under-the-weather, fifth-place decathlon finish at the world track and field championships last month in London, England, as the final chapter of his 2017 season.

So he’s in Talence, a city in southwestern France about the size as Woodstock, this week to win the last fairly big combined events competition on the calendar.

The Decastar runs Saturday and Sunday.

“If London (England) went the way I thought it would, I don’t think I would’ve done another decathlon,” the 27-year-old Londoner said by phone Tuesday. “Since it didn’t go too well there and I was pretty upset, I didn’t want to end my season like that.

“I want to go out here and show people London was a fluke and it’s not going to happen again.”

Warner was the golden favourite at worlds, but he became ill a few days before go time and ended up quarantined due to the norovirus, which swept through Team Canada’s medal-less ranks.

Funny thing is, he was already a bit of a germophobe.

“I was doing everything — hand washing and staying away from people in London,” Warner recalled. “I thought there was no chance I would get (the bug), and somehow I got it anyway. I’ll still always do whatever I can to avoid getting sick. But now, I know anything can happen.”

Quarantine was no picnic, either.

“It’s not the most fun,” he said. “Jen (his girlfriend Jen Cotten) arrived the day I got sick. You hope you could try to go out for a dinner with her, just for something to do because most of the other athletes are already competing.

“But I didn’t end up seeing her until after it was over.”

Warner gutted his way to 8,309 points — well-back of the 8,768 posted by newly-minted world champion Kevin Mayer of France.

“It didn’t indicate where I was in the season,” he said. “It was disappointing to do all the training, take care of your body and make sure you’re not injured, then come up with this illness you can’t plan for or control.

“The first day, in general, with a lot of speed and power stuff, that was a big shock on my body. Running (and winning) the 100 metres, usually I run and don’t see anybody in the race (because he’s so far ahead).

“That time, I saw everybody in the race. The whole experience was frustrating. I kind of wished it was over a lot of times during it.”

So the Montcalm grad went to Paris at the end of it and took a week to recover.

“I told myself I would see how my body felt and if things were feeling a little bit better, I would come here,” he said. “I got back into training (at base in Calgary) and it went really well. It’s a good field and you never know what will happen, but at the very least, I’ll do a lot better than I did in London.”

At last count, eight of the top 10 decathletes from worlds will be at Decastar, including home hero Mayer. They are taking part in a season-long combined events points challenge and everyone needs to get three decathlons in to qualify for the title.

Warner, boosted by his early triumph at Gotzis, Austria, can still win — and he calculates he needs 8,700 points (five points better than his current Canadian record) for it.

“It’ll be difficult since I didn’t score too well in London,” he said, “but it’s another incentive. I’m healthy and feel like I’m in good shape. I did a lot of pole vault, discus and javelin leading up to this, so those are the three things I’m looking forward to this week.”

In the past few weeks, he has been able to draw some positives from his English trials.

“I was able to finish fifth with things going pretty rough, so that’s encouraging,” he said, “and even though I didn’t feel well, I still had a couple of solid marks in a few events. Pretty frustrating, but all you can do now is laugh and joke about it.

“And I know now whatever happens in any decathlon, I can always finish, no matter how I’m feeling. And that’s a big thing to learn.”

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