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Damian Warner wins elusive heptathlon gold in Canadian record effort at indoor worlds

Damian Warner is a first-time world athletics indoor champion

The London, Ont., native placed third in the men’s 1,000 metres, the final event of the heptathlon in Belgrade, Serbia, to overtake Simon Ehammer of Switzerland for his first title in three world indoor appearances.

Warner is the season world leader with 6,489 points, which exceeds his Canadian record by 146 points. The 32-year-old concluded second by five points behind 2018 winner Kevin Mayer of France and was seventh in 2014.

“I’m going [to Serbia] to win,” Warner, the reigning Olympic decathlon champion, told CBC Sports recently. “It won’t be easy, but it never is. You want to get a personal best and winning would be icing on the cake. You also want to see that you’re in good shape.”

Warner clocked two minutes 39.32 seconds in the 1,000, 2.20 seconds behind his 2:37.12 personal best from 2018 world indoors. Ehammer was ninth of 10 runners in Saturday’s 1,000 in a season-best 2:53.54. He posted a 2:51.14 PB in February 2020.

Ehammer finished with 6,363 points to set a Swiss record and battled Warner from the beginning of the seven-event competition on Friday.

Ashley Moloney of Australia, the 2020 Olympic bronze medalist in the decathlon, earned another bronze on Saturday with 6,344 points.

Before world indoors, Warner suggested he might surprise himself with a strong performance in the 1,000.

“I’m still fast,” he said, “and I know I’m in good shape and healthy, so anything’s possible.”

The Canadian opened Saturday’s action with a 7.61-second victory and personal best in the men’s 60-metre hurdles for a 38-point lead over Ehammer before watching his opponent clear 5.10 metres in pole vault to take a 23-point advantage into the final event. Warner’s best in the pole vault was 4.90.

Mayer didn’t compete this weekend, having withdrawn earlier this month due to Achilles problems that worsened after contracting coronavirus in January, which followed his second vaccine shot last September.

Seven months ago, Warner won gold at the Summer Games for the first time with an Olympic record 9,018 points to defeat Mayer (8,726).

In mid-February, Warner was in a funk at practice and told his coach, Gar Leyshon, he felt “terrible” and “not ready” to compete at world indoors. But coach Dennis Nielsen, longtime physiotherapist Dave Zelibka and sports psychologist Jean Francois Menard rallied around him, telling Warner he was in better physical condition than he thought. “I think there’s still a little bit of that funk in me, but I’m headed in the right direction with the steps we’ve taken this year from a technical standpoint and training-wise,” Warner stated.

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