Decathlete Damian Warner’s 2021 was a year for the ages.
The London, Ont. native broke his own Canadian record twice before smashing the Olympic record at the 2020 Tokyo Games to win the gold medal with a score of 9,018, the fourth highest in history.
Warner and his partner, Canadian hurdler Jen Cotten, also welcomed their son, Theo, to the world in March.
The 32-year-old is grateful for the year he’s had and admits that the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the postponement of the Olympics, the closing of his regular training facilities, and working out of the empty Farquharson Arena in London, will make 2021 even more special when he looks back.
"As more time passes, I think this gold medal will mean much more to me because I can look back on the year and the process it took to get it,” Warner told TSN. “There was one point where I thought this wasn't a possibility, just because the facilities were closed down and we weren’t able to compete.
“I thought that everything we were working for over the past 10 years or so was gone. But we stayed the course and continued to work hard, and we persevered through all that and reached our goal.
“It's been a challenging but really special year considering everything that happened over the 18 months leading up to it. It’s definitely something that I'll always remember.”
Despite reaching the apex of his career in an empty stadium while his family remained at home in Canada, Warner will always hold the memories of the 68,000 empty seats at Japan National Stadium close to his heart.
“Obviously, there was nobody in the stands but there were some really special moments where I could come back to the room, open my phone and I could see my coaches and my mom, Jen, and our little guy with his headphones on, cheering along,” said Warner. “They weren't in the stadiums with me, but it was a really special moment and one of those things I’ll always remember.”

Embedded ImageThe accolades for Warner didn’t stop after the closing ceremonies, where he was chosen as Canada’s flag bearer.
He was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame and capped off his incredible 2021 by being named Canada’s athlete of the year. Warner beat out fellow 2020 Olympic gold medallists, sprinter Andre DeGrasse and swimmer Maggie Mac Neil, soccer players Stephanie Labbé and Alphonso Davies, Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid, and Toronto Blue Jays’ first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for the award.
“I feel like at this point I don’t know what to say anymore. It’s been an incredible year for me. Since [the Olympics] there have been so many other awards and accolades that have come with it. I’m extremely grateful for it,” Warner said on TSN OverDrive. “As I get older, I’m going to look back and it’s going to mean so much to me.
“It’s an honour. I think [Athlete of the Year] could have gone to anyone. That’s why it feels so weird to accept an award like this because you know it could have went to so many other people. I’m grateful for it. It’s an honour and not something that I take lightly.”
Warner’s remarkable 2021 has wrapped up but the three-time Olympian is not content to rest on his laurels. One of his coaches, Dennis Nielsen has stated that the coaching team wants Warner to be known as the best decathlete athlete ever whenever he chooses to step away from the sport.
While Warner appreciates the optimism of his coaches, the title of “greatest of all time” isn’t something he’s chasing.
“I don't necessarily search out to be the best decathlete of all time. Everyone has their own idea of who is the greatest of all time,” said Warner. “To be named that doesn't really matter, but just to be in that conversation amongst guys like Kevin Mayer, Ashton Eaton, Daley Thompson, and Dan O’Brien, all of those top guys before me.
“My goal is to be able to put together a resume so that when I step away from the sport, I can say that I accomplished everything I wanted to and I'm really happy with what I was able to achieve.”
There are few accomplishments left to add to Warner’s resume after a decorated career that saw him make his first Olympic appearance in 2012 in London and win his first medal, a bronze, in Rio de Janeiro at the 2016 Games. However, Warner has two goals in mind, and hopes to check both off his list at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
“I would love to be the world record holder. It's something that me and my coaches have put on our list, and it's been there for a little while,” said Warner. “If I've learned anything over the past year it's that I'm getting closer to that than I was before.
“[I want] to go back to the Olympics in Paris 2024 and be able to win back-to-back gold medals. That's something that's only been done a couple of times and that would also give me my third Olympic medal.”
If Warner wins back-to-back golds, he will become the third man (Eaton, Thompson, Bob Mathias) to win two Olympic golds in the decathlon and become the first to medal three times.
As he enters the cycle of what could be his final Olympics, Warner is ready to adapt and prepare to achieve what no other decathlete has before.
“As we move forward, I am one of the older athletes, so I have to make sure that we're able to adapt to any situation that comes up,” said Warner. “I think that the experience that we have helps us out a lot but it's going to be really important over the next three years, as we prepare for Paris, to stay adaptable and move with the flow of things.
“As a team, if we make sure we stay in check and we're on the same page, I think the possibilities are endless.”