LIMA, Peru — Two of Canada’s top athletes are putting on a show at the Pan American Games.
Decathletes Damian Warner, of London, Ont., and Pierce LePage of Toronto are in medal position after five events at the VIDENA sports complex.
Warner has the lead after Day 1 with 4499 points after the 100m, long jump, shotput, high jump, and 400m events. LePage isn’t far behind, just 81 points back of his fellow Canadian.
The two Canadians went 1-2 in the first two events, the 100-metres and the long jump. Warner ran the 100 in 10.32, followed closely by LePage in 10.51.
The defending champ put up a season’s best long jump of 7.74m, with LePage once again nipping at his heels with a 7.64m jump.
The two finished Day 1 in the 400m heat together, once again neck and neck, this time with LePage taking the victory — a season’s best 47.74, just 0.03 ahead of Warner.
Two Canadians at the top of the standings at an international event like the Pan Ams is something Warner is excited about.
“It’s special, for me,” Warner says. “For the longest time, over the last however many years, I’ve been going to a lot of these competitions by myself as the only Canadian.
“Now, not only do we have another Canadian, we have a great Canadian decathlete and now we’re one and two. I could see this happening at world championships and Olympics.”
LePage, at his first Pan Ams, says having a teammate like Warner makes new experiences a lot easier.
“I’m pretty young, so getting into the international stage and having such a veteran and someone who is as good as Damian kind of lead the way and help me out, I know it’s helped me become a better athlete.”
Defending champ or not, the goal is the same
Warner returned to the Pan Ams as the defending champion, but he says he approaches every event with the same mindset.
“It’s cool that I won the last one but every competition I enter, I try to win [and] this is just another competition,” Warner says. “Hopefully at the end I’ll be on top of the podium.”
Both athletes have hit the Olympic qualifying standards for the 2020 Tokyo Games, so the Pan Ams are a chance to put all their training and practice into competition. Warner’s coach, Gar Leyshon, says events like the Lima Games are few and far between.
“Training for the decathlon is not like training for any other sport, he only gets to compete two or three times a year. It’s very rare where you only get to compete that often,” Leyshon says. “For Damian preseason is most of the year and so it’s very difficult — not even just physically, but mentally and emotionally.
“You just don’t get enough chances to compete and you’re struggling to learn, or master new things all the time.”
For LePage, it’s also a chance to prove he’s at 100 per cent following some major injuries after winning Commonwealth Games silver in 2018.
“[The silver medal] wasn’t the big thing that I was going to do in my career, [but] after Commonwealth I ended up tearing my UCL after the meet and having to delay my season for about four months,” LePage says. “So I did nothing, no nationals, and then we ended up trying to go to France in September of last year and I ended up tearing my hamstring.
“So the last year, aside from Commonwealth was, I suppose, not great, but after resting in the off-season this year we kind of focused and prepared my body and made sure none of that stuff would happen again.”
LePage is also happy to be back in action with Warner.
“It’s always fun competing with someone from your country,” LePage says. “We go through 10 events for two days. It’s always good to have someone to talk to, lean on if you need help and at Commonwealth he was helpful — I probably couldn’t have a won a silver medal without him there because he’s a great leader by example.”
Warner says he’s excited to see his fellow Canadian progress now that he’s healthy.
“I think [LePage] has a great future. He’s an extremely talented athlete and he’s progressing at a pretty quick rate,” Warner says. “I think as long as he can stay healthy there’s a bright future, but he’s definitely done a great job to this point.”
Adjust and adapt
Lima is also offering the Canadians a chance to immerse themselves in the major, multi-sports games experience.
“You’ve got to travel to a place you’ve never been, and you’ve got to adjust and adapt,” Leyshon says. “All those skills you pick up doing that kind of stuff help you when you get to the Olympics or the worlds.”
The added bonus of Pan Am competition is the ability to represent Canada on the world stage, something both decathletes relish.
“Representing Canada, that was always my goal,” Warner says. “I remember when I was back in high school, I dreamed about going to the Olympics… one of the biggest goals was always to get the Team Canada uniform.
“Me and all the other athletes around me thought that was just the coolest thing. Now I get to do that for a living and it still feels cool to this day.”
“It’s always special,” LePage says. “When you make a team and get all your gear, it’s like Christmas morning. When you compete, when people are cheering for you, they’re cheering for Canada.
“If you win a medal you feel like you’ve done a good job representing Canada. That’s always a good thing.”
The final five events of the decathlon — hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and the 1500m — begin on Wednesday.