How Damian Warner turned an unheated hockey rink into his gold-medal training ground

Damian Warner’s path to becoming the world’s greatest athlete wasn’t easy.

On Day 13 of the Tokyo Games, the 31-year-old from London, Ont. won the gold medal in the men’s decathlon, scoring over 9,000 points and setting an Olympic record.

Warner was also selected to be Canada’s flag-bearer for the closing ceremony, celebrating the end to Canada’s best summer Olympic performance in 37 years.

But when COVID-19 first hit and shut down athletic facilities, Warner and his community had to improvise.

“When COVID hit … all of our facilities were closed. We had nowhere to go, and we were out in the cold,” said Warner in an interview with CTV National News. “So, we had to rely on our community to step up and come together and build the facility for myself and some other athletes training to try to qualify for the games.”

An old, unheated hockey rink in London, Ont. was transformed into a training centre for Warner and other athletes, but Warner had to make some adaptations to his makeshift facility.

“With it being so cold… we bought heaters off the internet so we can train,” he said.

The size of the arena also posed a few challenges for some of the decathlon events that Warner was training for.

“We weren’t necessarily sure how to throw discus and javelin and shotput and all these different events inside a space that was probably 50 metres by 30 metres,” said Warner

Javelins can fly farther than 60 metres. Warner put up some tarps to stop the javelins from hitting the walls of the arena.

“We got creative and burned through a lot of tarps,” he said. “It just shows that even if you don’t have the greatest facilities, if you have the right people behind you, and anything can work out.

When Warner returns to London, a hero’s welcome awaits him. But Warner is most looking forward to seeing his partner, Jen, and his family.

“I’m just really excited to see those guys and then see my mom, see my sister, see my brother,” said Warner.

But the world’s greatest athlete isn’t done with the sport yet, as he looks to the next Olympics in Paris.

“I feel like I still have a lot to give to the sport, a lot to learn myself. And I think that I’ll definitely be around for Paris 2024 and hopefully defend my title.”​

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