It could have been worse: Damian Warner out 6-8 weeks, planning comeback after injury at world athletics

·5 min read
Canada's Damian Warner reacts after dropping out of the men's decathlon 400-metre event during the World Athletics Championships last month at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images - image credit)
Canada's Damian Warner reacts after dropping out of the men's decathlon 400-metre event during the World Athletics Championships last month at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images - image credit)

Less than two weeks after a hamstring injury during the 400-metre event at the World Athletics Championships forced Canadian decathlete Damian Warner out of competition, the 32-year-old is already planning his comeback.

In an interview with CBC Sports, Warner's coach Gar Leyshon says his star athlete and the team are already mapping out a strategy for the world championships next summer and then the path to the Paris Olympics.

"He's pissed off. So frustrated. And motivated," Leyshon said. "We're already planning what we're going to do next year."

Warner is going to be out for about six-to-eight weeks with a hamstring strain, says Leyshon. It could have been much worse.

"This is a strain, not a tear. What it means is that he strained the muscles. There's micro-tearing and whatever. There's some swelling. But there's no tear. No big tear," Leyshon said.

"Basically it's as good as it could be, all things considered."

Warner is back home in London, Ont., with his partner Jen Cotten and young son Theo after they all had to spend a week in Portland isolating and recovering from COVID-19 in the wake of injury.

The plan now is to take it easy over the next couple of months.

"Basic general stuff. Rehab starts today," Leyshon said. "General movement stuff. Play some basketball and play catch."

WATCH | Damian Warner suffers injury:

Painful reminder

While the focus now is moving forward and putting the disappointment of the injury behind them, Leyshon can't help but watch the tape of the race over and over.

Warner was in first place after four events on the opening day of competition at worlds in Eugene, Ore. All he needed was a solid finish to the day in the 400m and he would have been leading heading into the second day of the decathlon.

Leyshon says they were all baffled, however, when they saw Warner had drawn Lane 1 for the 400m.

"They don't make anyone run in Lane 1 in the 400-metre men's heats because it's a death sentence. They haven't made anyone run in the decathlon in Lane 1 since the 2013 world championships," Leyshon said.

"He drew Lane 1 and I swore. I talked to the referee and I said, 'Is there a chance to redraw these lanes?' I was told if people pulled out they would look at it."

Two athletes pulled out, so Leyshon wasn't worried. But after high jump, nothing had changed going into the 400m.

"You're taking the fastest guy in the world ever in decathlon and making him run in Lane 1. Damian, in his 12-year career, has never run in Lane 1. Not one time."

Leyshon says he scoured over every 400m race at worlds, including heats and hurdles. He says out of the 25 races, only seven included athletes having to compete in Lane 1.

The issue is that the initial corner is so tight and it's when the athletes are taking their most explosive strides — a perfect environment for injury.

"We looked at the video a number of times and you can see when it happened and you can see it happened just out of the turn when he starts to straighten up. I should have raised a bigger stink and caused a scene. I should have yelled at someone. It's in my nature to do so and I've been trying not to. But I should have," Leyshon says.

WATCH | Warner emotional after 'dissapointing end':

Limiting the damage

But because of Warner's experience, he was able to limit the damage.

"He knows his body so well and if he would have taken one more stride he would have torn it," Leyshon said.

Leyshon says he was watching it all unfold with the other coaches and Warner's family — it was like a nightmare playing out in front of them.

"I thought we were in the clear. Only a catastrophic failure could have derailed him at that point. All he had to do was run a decent time in the 400. And then he pulled up and I went 'No, no, no, no.' I couldn't say anything else. And then I ran. I ran underneath where the athletes go," Leyshon said.

"He came limping down the hall and as soon as he saw me [and] he burst into tears and started sobbing. I've never seen him more upset. He was just crushed. He was absolutely crushed."

Only three times throughout Warner's highly successful career has he been injured, in 2014, 2018 and now 2022.

Leyshon said each one of those times Warner competed in the world indoor championships – that won't be happening again if Leyshon has it his way.

Warner and Leyshon had a lengthy talk earlier this week about what they would have done differently and how they want next season to go.

WATCH | What makes Warner so good?:

'We're going to shake things up'

Despite the fact that they wouldn't have changed much, they are making changes. It's what's kept Warner at or near the top for years now.

"Even though we didn't do anything wrong, we're going to shake things up a bit. We're going to try and bring in a training partner so he has someone to work with. We're going to go to some different training camps," Leyshon said.

The team has faced many challenges before and have come out of it in a better place. That's the perspective Leyshon is reminding Warner of as the comeback begins.

"I told Damian the sun came up today. Nobody died. And everybody who loved you yesterday, loves you today."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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