Olympic champion Damian Warner targeting decathlon world record after 'catastrophic' end to last season

Canada's Damian Warner, the reigning Olympic decathlon gold medallist, trains in the high jump in London, Ont., on Thursday. (Aaron Dutra/CBC Sports - image credit)
Canada's Damian Warner, the reigning Olympic decathlon gold medallist, trains in the high jump in London, Ont., on Thursday. (Aaron Dutra/CBC Sports - image credit)

Olympic champion decathlete Damian Warner has fully recovered from a hamstring strain he suffered this past summer at the world championships and says he's feeling healthier than any other time in his career.

In an interview with CBC Sports during a training session inside Thompson Arena on the Western University campus on Thursday, Warner said whenever he's faced setbacks in the past, he's come back stronger.

"I feel great right now. All my training has been going really well, my body's feeling good, I'm happy, I'm healthy," Warner said. "I feel like I'm in a good place on the track and off. And it's just a matter of coming here every day working and trying to be better."

Warner doesn't want to spend too much time looking back at what his coach Gar Leyshon calls a "catastrophic" situation that unfolded at the world championships. Warner led in the decathlon after four events and was poised to win his first gold at worlds going into the final event of day one, the 400-metre race.

As he took off from the blocks on a scorching evening in Eugene, Ore. in late July, Warner quickly pulled up, grabbing his hamstring and wincing in pain. It immediately ended his world championships.

"The initial reaction is disbelief. And you know, horror. It's like, the only way he could lose this is if something catastrophic happened. And that's what happened," Leyshon said.

Aaron Dutra/CBC Sports
Aaron Dutra/CBC Sports

The early diagnosis was that Warner would be out for six-to-eight weeks with a hamstring strain. He was back jogging three weeks after the injury.

Since then, the 33-year-old from London, Ont. has been more motivated than ever to get back to peak form. Not only for worlds this upcoming August, but as he's also eyeing a lot more in his future.

"I want to go back to the Olympics and repeat. I want to go to Paris and bring back another gold medal. But I also want to be the world record holder in the decathlon," Warner proclaimed without hesitation.

"I think that I have what it takes to achieve that. It's certainly not going to be easy. But I believe that if me and my coaches continue the work that we're doing, I'll get to where I want to be."

WATCH | Olympic decathlon champion Warner discusses what drives him:

Warner and his team are still trying to answer some of their lingering questions about why he suffered the hamstring strain while running the 400m at worlds.

Leyshon feels it has a lot to do with Warner having to run in lane one, which puts a lot of pressure on the leg muscles by having to sprint around a tight corner to begin the race.

"I was worried right from the start. When you start in lane one, you run the entire curve as you're accelerating, and you're the only one who runs the entire curve as you accelerate," Leyshon said.

"So as he came off that turn, he took one step a little bit too wide with his inside leg, and all the pressure went on that hamstring."

Aaron Dutra/CBC Sports
Aaron Dutra/CBC Sports

Warner believes it was a series of things that led to his injury and now he's trying to safe-proof his body so it doesn't happen again.

"The decathlon is somewhat of a nightmare. There's a lot of stuff that can go wrong. And there's a lot of things that often do go wrong when you're doing a decathlon," Warner said.

"But I think the beauty of it is what if I get all 10 events to go exactly as planned? And I don't know if there's anybody in history that's ever experienced that but why not be the first guy to be able to do that. So that's what we train for every day, is for this imaginary decathlon. Who knows if it exists, but we're going to test our limits to see if it's possible."

Warner and his coaches will head to a couple competitions in Louisiana next month for some final preparations ahead of the annual Hypo Meeting in Götzis, Austria, in May.

Last May, Warner claimed a sixth-consecutive decathlon Hypo Meeting title, extending his record total to seven.

That will lead Warner back to worlds set for Budapest, Hungary in the fall. This will be Warner's seventh trip to worlds. He's never won gold.

"It's obviously something that I'm trying to push myself for every day. But luckily for me, there's a lot of opportunities," he said.

"At this point in my career there's no hiding it, I want to win a gold medal. That has to be the goal for everybody. Certainly anybody that's ranked in the top-five has to want to win that gold medal. And there's no surprise that it's mine as well."