Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Canada's Damian Warner wins Commonweal​th Games decathlon

Jim Steacy pulled the Canadian flag tighter around his broad shoulders, and with tears in his eyes said "This is for her."

Steacy won gold in the hammer throw Tuesday at the Commonwealth Games in what he called the perfect ending to what has been the toughest of seasons for the 30-year-old from Lethbridge, Alta.

He dedicated the victory to his mom Debby, who died suddenly in April.

"It's a good way to finish off," he said quietly.

Steacy's victory was a highlight on a good night on the track for Canada. Damian Warner of London, Ont., won the men's decathlon in dominant fashion, Kate Van Buskirk of Toronto was third in the women's 1,500 metres, and Brianne Theisen-Eaton and Jessica Zelinka finished Day 1 of the heptathlon 1-2.

Steacy's win was also his first major international victory since he won the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro.

"It's been a long time coming," he said.

What's kept him going?

"Trying to chase this feeling down," he said. "Honestly, this is why we do it. There is no money in this sport for us, especially in hammer. And to stand on the podium and get to wrap a flag around you like this, it's the best feeling in the world."

The six-foot-two thrower soaked up the atmosphere of a jam-packed crowd in the 44,000-seat Hampden Park to win with a throw of 74.16 metres. Nicholas Miller of England was second with 72.99, while Mark Dry of Scotland took bronze with 71.64.

"I knew the crowd noise was going to play a major part, the atmosphere has been fantastic, it was just so much fun," Steacy said. "That's something I thrive on, the atmosphere, the noise when the fans get engaged like that. It's hard not to do well."

Warner, meanwhile, scored 8,282 to win his only decathlon of the season — he was hampered by a leg injury earlier in the season. Ashley Bryant of England won the silver with 8,109, while Kurt Felix took bronze with 8,070.

He had an up and down two days, recording personal bests in the 100 metres and 100-metre hurdles, but struggling through his discus, pole vault and high jump event, calling all three "terrible."

The 24-year-old from London, Ont., who was a surprise fifth at the 2012 London Olympics and then won bronze in last year's world championships, is young in the sport. He considered pursuing basketball or football — he was strong in both, and was and still is a huge Toronto Raptors and Vince Carter fan.

He didn't choose decathlon until after high school and said there is plenty to learn before the Rio Olympics, where he's sure to be a medal favourite.

"The biggest thing I learned (in Glasgow) is you've just always got to compete," he said. "The last couple of days I've had some events that I was not happy about, but I've got to get on to the next one.

"It's something you've got to keep imprinting on your brain. You get upset about events, you've just got to keep moving forward and keep working."

The victory was Warner's first on the international stage, and he spent his victory lap stopping to meet all the kids clamouring wanting pictures.

"It's always awesome, running around with the country's flag," he said. "I tell ya, we took a lot of selfies out there, a lot of those kids have there cellphones out."

Warner had his sights set on Michael Smith's Canadian record of 8,626 he set in 1996, but it wasn't to be.

"I feel like I'm great shape to do so, and I feel like if I was given another chance, it could possibly come true," Warner said. "But I got the gold medal and I won the Commonwealth Games, so I think that's all that matters."

Van Buskirk, meanwhile, poured it on with a tremendous kick down the final straightaway to win 1,500-metre bronze in four minutes 8.94 seconds. Nicole Sifeuntes of Winnipeg was fourth in 4:10.48.

"Coming into the stadium and seeing it packed like that, you really can thrive off that crowd," Van Buskirk said. "This was the first time in my life in a major race that I wasn't nervous. I think I was just so amped up at the opportunity to be here. Just really thrilled with how it all played out."

Van Buskirk looked up at the big screen 10 metres before she crossed the finish line.

"I couldn't believe there was no one right on me, and thought oh my god, I'm going to medal," she said, laughing.

Theisen-Eaton and Zelinka are poised to march to the podium on Wednesday when they wrap up the heptathlon.

Theisen-Eaton, a 25-year-old from Saskatoon, scored 3,939 to lead. Zelinka is second with 3,744.

It was the first international meeting between Canada's top two heptathletes since the London Olympics, as Zelinka focused on hurdles last season to take a break from the multi-events.

Earlier this season, Theisen-Eaton recorded 6,641 points in Gotzis, Austria, to break Zelinka's Canadian record of 6,599 she set at the 2012 Olympic trials.

"It's nice," Theisen-Eaton said of having Zelinka back. "It's really nice, especially in this meet, I think we kind of use each other as competition to better our performances. Of course we always want to beat each other, but it's nice having Canada 1-2 after the first day."

The 32-year-old Zelinka, from London, Ont., was thrilled to be back on the international stage in her specialty.

"It's awesome, I love it," she said "I'm glad I took that break, I needed it. I came back inspired.

Switching things up, working with a new coach (Cliff Rovelto of Kansas State University), I am training on my own, long distance.

"I wasn't wishing on a lucky star that everything would come together this week, I had to be realistic. But we're working on some great things and this is just the beginning."


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