GOLD COAST, Australia - Canadian decathlon star Damian Warner has fond memories of the Commonwealth Games, overcoming injury four years ago to win gold in Glasgow.
"That was, I think, the second time that I got to run around the track with the Canadian flag but the first time that I got to hear the Canadian national anthem at any competition," said the 28-year-old from London, Ont, who now calls Calgary home.
"That was a huge stepping-stone for me. Because I told my coaches 'I want to experience this feeling a little bit more. It's a pretty cool feeling.'"
He had finished third at the 2013 world championships in Moscow, which also afforded him a lap of honour with the flag.
"But I got to see the guys from a lower angle that I would have liked so it was nice to stand on top (of the podium)," Warner recalled.
The Canadian says the decathlon field at the Gold Coast Games is stronger than usual with Grenada brothers Kurt Felix and Lindon Victor, Australia's Cedric Dubler and Canadian teammates Pierce LePage of Whitby, Ont., and Taylor Stewart of London, Ont.
"I see them practise every day and I know that they're ready to go," Warner said his fellow Canadians. "So I wouldn't be surprised if one of those guys, or both of them, put up some big scores."
Felix, who was third in Glasgow and runner-up to Warner at the 2015 Pan American Games, and Victor have both scored more than 8,500 points. Warner's personal best is a Canadian record 8,695, set in 2015 when he finished runner-up to now-retired American Ashton Eaton at the world championships in Beijing.
The decathlon runs Monday-Tuesday at Carrara Stadium, home to Aussie Rules Football's Gold Coast Suns.
The 2014 Commonwealth Games also tested Warner mentally.
"It was the first time I ever experienced an injury and I was kind of the favourite going in," he said. "And all these thoughts were going through my head. Am I going to fail? Am I going to let the team down? But I went in there and I just trusted my coaches and my support staff and competed really well."
He had hurt his leg running at a training camp in Santa Barbara, Calif. At first he thought it was a small tear along his Achilles but it turned out to the nearby plantaris muscle.
Warner has had his share of challenges since. At last year's world championships in London, he finished fifth after being one of several Canadian athletes quarantined due to a nasty stomach bug.
"After that one, it kind of shows I can do a decathlon under any circumstances really," he said. "It was disappointing at the time. It's still a little bit disappointing now, because I was prepared. But at the same time I take something positive away from that and bring it moving forward, knowing I can compete under any circumstances."
Warner won bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics, a disappointing result in that he thought he could have done better.
"I was hard on myself," he said. "I'm always like my harshest critic. I hold myself to high expectations and when I don't achieve them, I sometimes take it a little bit harder than maybe I should. During the moment I was a little bit upset. But I was able to look back and say, 'You know what, not many people win a bronze medal at the Olympics.'
"And luckily for me I'm still going and I still have so much to learn ... So that kind of allowed me to get over it a little bit and kind of move towards the next competition."
The bronze was Canada’s first Olympic medal in the event since Dave Steen won bronze in 1988 in Seoul.
Warner is coming off a second-place heptathlon showing at the world indoor championships in Birmingham, England, losing to France's Kevin Mayer by just five points despite setting a Canadian indoor record of 6,343 points.
Warner, who has the 2019 world championships in Doha, Qatar, in the back of his mind, sees the Gold Coast Games as a good measuring stick of his form.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge and looking forward to see where I'm at," he said.
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