By GARY KINGSTON
BURNABY – He knew it wasn’t going to be his best day at the track, but for Olympic decathlon gold medalist Damian Warner, the Vancouver Sun Harry Jerome Track Classic was about showing up, grinding it out. And then posing for pictures with delighted fans.
The London, Ont., native who won his gold medal in Tokyo last year to earn the mantle of the world’s best athlete, was the meet headliner. But his time of 13.68 to win the 110-metre hurdles was pedestrian for him. And although he won the long jump with a leap of 7.69 metres, well below his personal best, he fouled on four of his five attempts.
“I competed in Austria a week, two weeks ago (winning the prestigious Hypo Meet decathlon for a record seventh time) and usually I take a week off and get into training kind of slow,” said Warner. “But this opportunity to come here and compete was there.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be quite sharp and ready to compete. We’re kind of focussed on Oregon right now (the world championships in mid-July), but the decathlon at the end of the day is, sometimes you’re not going to have the best performances and you just have to muscle it out and compete. And that’s what I did today.”
The crowd of 2,300 at Swangard Stadium didn’t seem to care that he wasn’t at his best. They cheered loudly as sprinted down the runway for each of his long jump attempts and several young fans lined up to get selfies with the Canadian star after he’d finished.
“It’s nice to come out and see all the little kids and sign autographs, take the pictures. That’s what it’s all about, inspiring the younger kids and showing them that one day they can compete on this stage as well and building this sport of track and field.”
In the hurdles, Warner hit the third and fourth obstacles and knew he wasn’t going to record a great time.
“I thought to myself, ‘This time is not going to be very fast, but just win the race.’ And it just got messy, messy, messy. But again, it was enough to win. And sometimes you have to challenge yourself in situations where things aren’t going to go well.”
There were no meet or Canadian records set, or world championships qualifying standards recorded, but there were still some encouraging performances:
Lindsey Butterworth, a North Vancouver native and SFU grad who is almost certainly headed to the world championships in the 800 based on her world rankings points, moved up to the 1,500 metres and finished third behind Sweden’s Yolanda Ngarambe, in a personal best of 4:08.25.
“I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, flying in from Europe just a couple of days ago,” said Butterworth. “I hadn’t run a 1,500 in a few years. It’s less pressure and just kind of fun.”
She said it was “a confidence builder for sure,” and sets her up for nationals in Langley later this month.
“Running the 800 so many times over and over again can get a little bit redundant and you kind of feel like you’re banging your head against a wall. This is kind of a nice reset.”
Christabel Nettey, the seven-time Canadian long jump champion who grew up in Surrey, won her event with a leap of 6.61 metres, a distance that if repeated at worlds, should get her into the finals.
Nettey, who holds the Canadian record of 6.99 set in 2015, will likely make it to Eugene on world rankings points if she doesn’t hit the qualifying standard of 6.82 at nationals.
“But 6.82 is never on my mind. It’s always been seven metres. That’s the goal and it’s never changed.”
Nettey will head back to Knoxville, Tenn., to continue training under new coach Nick Newman before returning to B.C. for nationals. She really enjoys competing at home in front of family and friends.
“It’s so much fun. I have my young cousins, my sisters. My mom is here. I told my family, everybody needs to be (at worlds). Find a way. Eugene is really close . . . and having a support person there, it just means so much more.”
Richmond’s Even Dunfee won the 10,000-kilometre race walk in 40 minutes, 38.99 minutes, two minutes slower than his Canadian record time set at last year’s Jerome.
“Never fun to be lapped by your ghost,” joked Dunfee, who has won bronze medals in the 50K at both the Olympics and world championships.
“It’s a point right now in the season where it’s a comeback from some injuries and we’re just trying to get back into some shape or form. So today was what it was. And I’m just going to take it as a baseline and go from there and, at Eugene, see what I’m able to do.”
Olympian Regan Yee, a native of Hazelton, B.C., ran her first 3,000-metre steeplechase of the season, running the last three laps on her own and winning in 9:40.72, nearly 13 seconds off her personal best.
“I’m happy with that,” said Yee. “Usually at Harry Jerome, I’m trying to get a good time and qualify for something. But this year, I already have the qualifying time standard (for worlds), so my coach told me, ‘Don’t put too much of an emotional investment into the race.
“When I’m in front of my family and friends, I was always get super-hyped and he was like ‘Save that for nationals in a couple of weeks. Just get out there, stay calm, practice your routine and just have fun.’ So that’s what I did.”
In other events, Ontario’s Ben Flanagan won the men’s 5,000 metres in 13.24.94, ahead of Quebec’s Thomas Fafard (13:31.50 and Luc Bruchet of White Rock (1:35.77) and Charles Philibert-Thiboutot of Quebec won the men’s 1,500 in 3:37.04, edging out American Samuel Prakel and Cam Procevait of Burnaby, both of whom were under 3:38.00.