By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) - Decathlete Damian Warner paid back his family and friends for their support in Pan American Games gold on Thursday, but the price may have been steep, the Canadian gambling with a podium finish at the world championships.
For Warner, who grew up two hours from the Pan Am stadium, the considerable risk was worth the reward, a Games gold on home soil in front of his mom to hang alongside the Commonwealth Games gold he won last year.
But it is Olympic and world championship titles that really matter. The biggest of these will be on offer a year from now at the Rio Summer Games, the other up for grabs next month in Beijing.
Regarded as the ultimate athletes, decathletes generally compete in full 10-event competitions just twice a year.
Warner will attempt to jam two major competitions on two different continents into five weeks.
The 25-year-old did not come to the Pan Ams as a tune-up for the worlds, targeting instead the 19-year-old national record of 8,626 points held by Michael Smith and smashing it with a personal best score of 8,659.
"I knew I wanted the Canadian record so bad, I didn't think there was a better place to get it than here at home," said Warner, who competed in his first decathlon at the same York University site.
"Before the 1,500 meters I saw my mom and my uncle and a whole bunch of friends and I was a little emotional and I just tried to hold it all together and I go out there and take care of business."
The toll for competing in 10 events crammed into two grueling days is considered one of the sport's supreme tests, so much so that the Olympic champion is crowned with the mythical title of world's greatest athlete.
It is a crown that many, including current Olympic champion and world record holder Ashton Eaton of the United States, believe Warner could achieve.
Based on results since he was unable to watch the competition in the States, Eaton told Reuters via email there likely "were some ups where he (Warner) probably thought 'Man I’m on a roll' and there were some downs when he may have thought 'Can I even get an overall PB?'
"When there were downs he responded well, either in the next event or next attempt. When you go through all that and keep fighting you truly have a decathlon mentality, then you score big.
"He’s ready for Worlds."
Fifth at 2012 London Olympics, in only his 10th decathlon, bronze medal winner at 2013 worlds and 2014 Commonwealth Games champion, Warner confirmed at the Pan Am Games his place among the decathlon elite.
"I like to believe I'm still young, a couple of years ago I could do four decathlons a year and only have a month in between," said Warner. "I believe I still have some fresh legs so I think five weeks will be plenty of time."
Like 20-year-old Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse who thrilled the crowd with his 100m victory on Wednesday, Warner oozes natural athleticism that must be harnessed and refined.
Decathletes must possess the explosive power of a sprinter, the long-bursting endurance of a middle distance runner, the power of a shot putter and the ability to glide over hurdles.
And to be a gold-medal winning decathlete you must be close to world class in all of them.
Warner opened the competition on Wednesday by posting personal bests in the 100 metres (10.28) and long jump (7.68m) was eighth in the shot put (14.36m), cleared 1.97 metres in the high jump and capped off the day by winning the 400m (47.66).
He got Day Two off to a bright start, posting a personal best in the 110m hurdles (13.44 seconds), tossing the discus a lifetime best 47.56m, clearing a modest 4.60m in the pole vault and throwing the javelin 61.53m.
With the long-standing national record within his grasp, Warner stepped to the line in the final event, the 1,500m, needing a time of four minutes 29 seconds to topple the mark.
He did what champions do, and delivered, charging across the line with hands raised to the roar of partisan crowd in a personal best of 4:24.73.
"When I came to track everybody and myself knew I had to run a fast time in the 1,500. I just tried to feed off the crowd," said Warner. "I wouldn't have been able to run that time without them.
"Nothing is ever given to you. Something crazy could happen in the last 100 meters so you just have to take it step by step and celebrate at the end when I knew I had it in the bag."
(Editing by Gene Cherry)