Harry Jerome Track Classic: Damian Warner keeps pushing sport forward

Tokyo Olympic decathlon gold medallist slated to take part in the men’s 110-metre hurdles and the long jump at Burnaby’s Swangard Stadium on Tuesday

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Vancouver Sun Harry Jerome Track Classic

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Tuesday, 4 p.m.-10 p.m.

Swangard Stadium, 3883 Imperial St., Burnaby.

Tickets, info:

Damian Warner says winning an Olympic gold medal has scaled back the personal pressure he feels.

The internal expectation of helping carrying track and field in this country remains, though, and he’s good with that.

“I’ve always felt that pressure,” said Warner, 32, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games decathlon champion from London, Ont., who headlines the Vancouver Sun Harry Jerome Track Classic on Tuesday at Burnaby’s Swangard Stadium. “Athletes before me have done the same thing, athletes like Donovan Bailey.

“I want to represent myself and my country well. It’s a pressure I carry on my shoulders every time I go into these competitions. I want to show that Canada deserves to be at the top of the podium and there are a lot of other athletes who are doing their jobs, too, to help reinforce that.”

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The Harry Jerome gets going Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Swangard, and Warner is slated to to take part in the men’s 110-metre hurdles and the long jump. He’s preparing for the national track and field championships, which run June 22-26 at McLeod Athletic Park in Langley, and then for the worlds, set for July 15-24 in Eugene, Ore.

Sports fans from across the country will be keeping an eye on how Warner does. He became the first Canadian to win a decathlon Olympic gold in Tokyo, and just the fourth decathlete ever to top the 9,000-point barrier. His 9,018 score established both Canadian and Olympic standards.

Warner won a host of year-end awards, including the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s athlete of the year, as decided by voters for the annual Toronto Star honour.

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Prior to Tokyo, Warner had won a bronze at the Rio 2016 Olympics and was a three-time medallist (one silver, two bronze) in his three trips to world championships.

Warner says that since Tokyo he’s been stopped and asked for autographs and photos more often.

“That part is all pretty weird for me,” Warner said. “But it’s a pretty cool thing to see that I’m getting recognized, because that means the sport is being watched.”

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Madeleine Kelly, 26, a middle distance runner from Hamilton who is competing at the Harry Jerome Tuesday, talked during Monday’s press conference about how qualifying for Tokyo 2020 and running a sub-two-minute 800 metre race — two of her life goals — seemed to lift a weight off her shoulders. That resonated with Warner as well.

“I spent a large portion of my career preparing to go to the Olympics and win a gold medal. For that to finally happen, it was like, ‘I did it,’ ” Warner said. “If my career was to end tomorrow, I would be able to say I’m proud of what happened. Obviously, I don’t expect my career to end any time soon. But I’ve put myself in a position where I can be proud of what I’ve been able to achieve. And now every competition that I go to, it’s ‘can I win?’ and ‘how far can I push this scoring?’ ”

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He spoke to athletes who had won Olympic gold prior to departing for Tokyo. He didn’t get into names, but it gave him an idea of what the aftermath could look like.

“It was kind of crazy. It was a little bit crazier then I expected,” said Warner, who has a 15-month-old son named Theo with partner Jen Cotten. “There was a lot expected from me from a time standpoint, but I’m a first-time father as well. Juggling all those things was difficult, but I think I’m better for it.

“My life has changed, I want to say, quite a bit. At the same time I’m still the same me. I still change diapers, I still take out the garbage and do the dishes.

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“There’s certainly a lot of things in my life that have changed, but I‘m happy that it‘s for the most part stayed similar because I really enjoy my life. I enjoy the people that I have in my life and I get to be an athlete, I get to travel the world and compete against some of the best people. So I have nothing to complain about at the end of the day.”

The Harry Jerome also announced Monday that it had been awarded a World Athletics Heritage Plaque. According to World Athletics, the “accolade recognizes the competition‘s historic contribution to the development of track and field athletics in North America.” The meet dates back to 1964. The plaque will be displayed at Swangard Stadium.

“For almost 40 years, athletes from around the world have honoured the memory of world record holder and Olympic medallist Harry Jerome. Our dream is to see the event expand into the next century,” longtime organizer Doug Clement said.

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