Damian Warner's coaches filled with pride over Olympic gold win

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Damian Warner's coaches say they just knew the star decathlete would be able to capture Olympic gold.

The 31-year-old from London, Ont., shattered the Olympic record with 9,018 points as he won the decathlon in Tokyo on Thursday.

His coaches said the victory was the result of months of hard work, adding that they're sure he'll go on to break the world record next.

"We've never seen anybody who had that kind of athleticism," coach Dennis Nielsen told The Canadian Press in an interview.

"When he retires from decathlon, he will be known as the world's best decathlete ever. And we're committed to that. We're 100 per cent convinced that's going to happen."

Nielsen, who has known Warner since teaching him physical education and English in Grade 10 at Montcalm Secondary School in London, is one of several coaches who train the star athlete.

He wasn't able to travel to Tokyo due to pandemic restrictions – only coach Gar Leyshon accompanied Warner – but Neilsen, his fellow coaches and Warner's family all gathered in London to watch the athlete compete on Wednesday and Thursday.

"I am very, very happy and unbelievably proud of Damian," said Nielsen, adding that he's known since Warner started decathlon training in 2009 that he was capable of winning Olympic gold.

"You can't help but feel a lot of pride and satisfaction (about) what we've been able to accomplish together."

The decathlon sees athletes do 10 track and field events: the 100 metres, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400 metres, hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1,500 metres over two days. The winner is unofficially considered "the world's greatest athlete."

Warner won bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics and said that left him wanting more.

Over the past several months, he trained in an empty, unheated hockey arena his coaches converted to a multi-events facility after COVID-19 shut down the Western University field house.

In Tokyo this week, he set Olympic decathlon records in the long jump and 110-metre hurdles. He also tied his decathlon world mark in the 100 metres and set a personal best in the pole vault.

Neilsen said Warner's success showed his determination has paid off.

"It’s affirmation of what we've always believed Damian to be capable of doing," he said. "And it's a glimpse of what's in store in the future."

Dave Collins, Warner's pole vault coach, said the Olympic medallist's demeanour and humility have inspired many other athletes.

"It's more about who he is as a person that says so much more than just him being an athlete," Collins said in an interview. "How he portrays and how he carries himself is what's inspiring to so many."

Collins said coming together in London with Warner's family, friends and training team to watch him compete was an incredible experience.

"It summarizes and brings together the 12 years that we've been working toward," he said. "It was an unbelievable moment that I'll never ever forget."

Warner became the fourth man in history to top the 9,000-point mark. The previous Olympic record was 8,893 points, shared between Ashton Eaton of the United States (2016) and Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic (2004).

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 5, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press

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