TOKYO—They were halfway home and sitting pretty.
Canadians Damian Warner and Pierce LePage were first and third in the decathlon, five events into a 10-event grind spread over two days. If they fell asleep the moment their heads hit the pillow after Wednesday’s events, ’round about midnight, they would have had a solid five hours to rest, recuperate and reload for Thursday.
When it was expected to be even steamier in Tokyo.
The 31-year-old Warner has been lights out on the decathlon circuit this year — he is ranked No. 1 in the world after shattering his Canadian record at the Hypo-Meeting in Götzis, Austria, in May, his score of 8,995 points the fourth highest in history — so his position going into Thursday wasn’t shocking. He’s the reigning Olympic bronze medallist, after all, though some observers thought he’d missed his moment in Rio and looked to be in reverse gear coming out of the 2016 Games.
Pshaw. The veteran, who earned bronze again at the world championships two years ago, put his head down and cranked his preparedness up across the pandemic lockdown by training out of a rickety old hockey arena, with no heat, in hometown London, Ont.
Freezing then, broiling now. And plumb tuckered out by Wednesday evening. Except decathletes don’t get to rest on their intermediate laurels. “I’m pretty tired,” Warner said. “I was gonna get a piggyback from Pierce but he took off.”
The heat, good Lord, the heat. As if gutting through the decathlon labours on Day 1 — 100 metres, long jump, shot put, high jump and 400 metres — wasn’t arduous enough.
“It was tough to manage,” Warner said of the enervating temperatures, anticipating cooling relief after the morning events as competition resumed in the evening. As if. “But it was definitely not. It was quite hot. It made the high jump and the 400 metres that much tougher.”
Warner got off to a fabulous start in the morning session, tying his world best in the 100 metres with a time of 10.2 seconds. Thirty minutes later, he crushed the field in the long jump, soaring 8.24 metres, the longest leap in the annals of Olympic decathlon. That distance would have garnered him a bronze medal in the men’s long jump earlier in the week.
“It was kind of weird, to be honest,” he told reporters in the mixed zone. “When I jumped in Götzis, jumped 8.28, I kind of knew in the air it was a big jump. Today, when I took off, it felt like just another jump. I turned to my coach and I was just, like, ‘Ahh, I think it’s close to eight metres.’ Then it came up on the board, 8.24. I was kind of like … no clue, no clue how that happened.”
Consistency, he concluded. Which is certainly Warner’s forte.
“Jump over 8.20 back to back in a decathlon? I’ll take it every time.”
Warner was impressively ahead of the pack at that point, but his lead was diminished following the shot put, where he finished 11th, and the high jump, where he was eighth. He rallied, however, with the third-best time in the 400 metres, 47.48 seconds. That had Twitter abuzz, urging the Canadian athletic powers that be to insert Warner into the 4x400 relay Saturday, outside of his decathlon comfort zone.
At the halfway point, Warner was in top spot with 4,722 points, likely out of range to match his personal best but still rosy for the tallest podium. Australian Ashley Moloney, who had the best time in the 400, was second with 4,641 points.
“I’m not super disappointed with the 400,” Warner said. “Obviously I think the time could have been a bit faster but it’s half a second faster than what I ran in Götzis. The high jump was a little bit down on what I did in Götzis but shot put was better. It’s kind of a game of ups and downs.”
The Day 2 menu: 110-metre hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw and the 1,500 metres — and Warner and LePage maintained their positions after the hurdles.
LePage doesn’t yet have Warner’s name recognition, at least not among casual fans. But he won silver at Götzis, and was fifth at his world championships debut in 2019. Quite impressive for the Toronto-born LePage, who says he only turned to decathlon seriously after spending most of his high school years playing video games.
LePage ran the 100 in 10.43, third fastest Wednesday. His 7.65 metres in long jump was second and his throw of 15.31 in shot put was fourth. He capped off the day with the second-fastest 400 at 46.92 in a wicked quick heat with Warner and Moloney.
“The two events I’ve been working on the hardest over the last year, the shot put and the 400, went well, so I’m glad. All I know is that I saw Ashley and Damian way ahead and I said, ‘I can’t let that happen.’ ”
The 400 he meant. “I finished and I was, like, ‘I’m done.’ I was the last guy to get up.”
He was just as wrecked by the heat as everybody else. “The morning session is what obviously gets you the most. But by the night session you’re cooked.”
LePage had 4,529 points after Wednesday’s events: “They always say the decathlon starts on Day 2. So I’m ready to show everyone that I’m a decathlete out there.”
Warner, who was on the field to watch Andre De Grasse win gold in the 200 metres, said he’ll take motivation from his compatriot’s victory. “Hopefully I can follow in his footsteps.”
But, geez, rise and shine for a 9 a.m. muster.
“And we have to go over hurdles first thing in the morning.”
Rosie DiManno is a Toronto-based columnist covering sports and current affairs for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno