Seemingly poised for victory from the very beginning of the decathlon, Canadian Damian Warner cruised to a record-setting gold-medal victory – one of three medals for Canada at the Tokyo Olympics on Thursday.
The 31-year-old Warner shattered the Olympic record with 9,018 points after a gruelling two-day, 10-disciplne competition and became the first Canadian to win decathlon gold.
His win capped off a three-medal day for Canada that included a silver for canoe sprinter Laurence Vincent-Lapointe and a surprise bronze from first-time Olympian Lauriane Genest in the women’s keirin track cycling event.
Warner held a commanding lead going into the final event of the day: the 1,500 metres. He crossed the finish line in four minutes 31.08 seconds. The time and fifth-place finish gave him 738 points in the event, enough for the Olympic record.
Warner became the fourth man in history to top the 9,000-point mark. The previous Olympic record was 8,893 points, shared between Ashton Eaton of the United States (2016) and Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic (2004).
World record-holder Kevin Mayer of France won silver with 8,726 points while Australian Ashley Moloney took bronze with 8,649.
Canada had two men in the decathlon. Pierce LePage of Whitby, Ont., finished fifth after 10 events with a personal-best score of 8,604.
Canoe sprinter Laurence Vincent-Lapointe’s bumpy road to qualify for the Olympics culminated with a silver podium spot in the women’s 200-metre canoe singles race.
The 29-year-old said she had a simple mantra going into the final: “No matter what happens, don’t give up. If people catch up to me, don’t give up,” she said.
Her determination paid off as she won silver in the final of the women’s C-1 200 at Sea Forest Waterway.
The paddler from Trois-Rivières, Que., finished the sprint in a time of 46.786 seconds.
American Nevin Harrison took the gold with a time of 45.932, while Ukraine’s Liudmyla Luzan claimed bronze.
Vincent-Lapointe’s perseverance was needed not only to get her on the podium, but to the Olympics in the first place.
While she’s been a dominant force in her sport for a decade, an “adverse analytical finding” during an out-of-competition drug test in July 2019 led to a suspension and caused her to miss that year’s world championship.
The International Canoe Federation cleared her to compete in January 2020, accepting that Vincent-Lapointe was the victim of third-party contamination of the banned substance ligandrol.
She then had to fight again to regain form and qualify amid a pandemic that didn’t allow her to travel to North American qualifying events.
On Thursday, delight and relief were etched on her face as she grinned and waved from the podium.
Katie Vincent of Mississauga, Ont., finished eighth in the C-1 200-metre race behind Vincent-Lapointe with a time of 47.834 seconds.
While Warner and Vincent-Lapointe came into their events as medal favourites, Genest’s bronze medal in cycling track came as a bit of a surprise, even to herself.
“I didn’t come here today to win. I knew I could do well, but I’m very happy with the outcome and I don’t quite realize it yet,” she said.
The 23-year old from Lévis, Que. crossed the line .148 seconds behind winner Shanne Braspennincx of the Netherlands and .061 back of silver medallist Ellesse Andrews of New Zealand. Genest’s teammate Kelsey Mitchell was fifth.
The keirin, which originated in Japan as a popular gambling race, is a six-lap race of the 250-metre track.
It was Canada’s first-ever medal in the event and only the second for a Canadian woman in an individual track cycling race, after Edmonton’s Lori-Ann Muenzer captured sprint gold in 2004.
Earlier, Canada and Sweden learned that Olympic organizers had moved the kickoff of Friday’s women’s soccer gold-medal match from 11 a.m. local time to 9 p.m. after both teams expressed concern about having to play in the sweltering midday heat.
Midday temperatures in the mid-30s were expected again Friday with the humidex making it feel more like the low 40s.
The change was made after FIFA, the sport’s governing body, along with the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, reviewed plans for the final.
The match was also moved from Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium to International Stadium Yokohama.
“I think the change makes absolute sense for the spectacle of what the game can be,” said Canadian head coach Bev Priestman.
“For anyone tuning in around the world, it’ll be a much better game because of (the change). I just can’t wait to get going.”
Back on the track, Warner started off his gold-medal-winning day with an Olympic decathlon record of 13.46 seconds in the 110-metre hurdles, then followed that up with a solid third-place showing in discus, with a toss of 48.67 metres.
He hit several milestones over the last two days, including setting an Olympic decathlon record in the long jump and tying his own decathlon best mark in the 100 metres on Day 1.
Warner is coming off an extraordinary winter that saw him train in an empty, unheated hockey arena that his coaches converted to a multi-events facility after COVID-19 shut down the University of Western Ontario fieldhouse.
Just 14 hours after he captured the gold medal in the men’s 200, Andre De Grasse was back on the track in top form as he ran a speedy anchor leg to put Canada’s 4x100 relay team into Friday’s final.
Jamaica had the fastest time on the morning with 37.82, while China ran 37.92 for second place over Canada in a decision that was determined by thousandths of a second in a photo finish.
Aaron Brown, who was sixth in Wednesday’s 200 metres, ran the lead-off leg, followed by Jerome Blake and Brendon Rodney. Racing for the seventh time of these Games, De Grasse took the baton from Rodney in about fifth place, before churning down the home stretch to cross the line alongside China.
On the women’s side, the 4x400 relay team of Alicia Brown, Sage Watson, Madeline Price and Kyra Constantine ran a time of 3:24.05, which was good enough for fifth in their heat and a place in Friday’s final.
Three-time bronze medallist Meaghan Benfeito had a disappointing day on the diving platform as she just missed the finals of the women’s 10-metre event in what is likely to be her last Olympics.
—The Canadian Press