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Decathlete Warner wins the Canadian 110-metre hurdles title in pouring rain

MONTREAL — Damian Warner had to squint to see the hurdles through a torrential downpour on Saturday. But in a pre-Olympic season that has thrown up unprecedented challenges that Warner has masterfully negotiated, lousy weather was just one more.

MONTREAL — Damian Warner had to squint to see the hurdles through a torrential downpour on Saturday.

But in a pre-Olympic season that has thrown up unprecedented challenges that Warner has masterfully negotiated, lousy weather was just one more.

The Canadian decathlete won a 110-metre hurdles race that resembled a water sport at the Canadian Olympic track and field trials, running 13.64 seconds in an empty Claude Robillard Sports Complex. 

"I think it's important to kind of go through different situations, that way in Tokyo whatever happens, you're able to deal with it," Warner said. "And that's been the one thing that we've learned throughout this whole (COVID-19) pandemic is just to be adaptable. And I think going out here and winning this race kind of just reinforces that."

Warner, who's using the trials as fine-tuning for the Tokyo Games, was surprised by his time. The start time had been pushed back more than an hour, but the rain didn't slow, and the hurdlers took the blocks after officials had attempted to squeegee away any puddles 

"I thought it would be a pretty bad time, just because it was so wet," Warner said. "Everything was soaked before the race, could hardly see the hurdles, so at some points you felt like you were running blind. But 13.64, similar to the long jump (which Warner won Friday), if I can do those numbers kind of at my worst, or during these conditions, then I think I'm in a good place going into Tokyo."

Craig Thorne was second in 14.10, while decathlete Pierce LePage was third with 14.13. Michelle Harrison won the women's 100-metre hurdles in 12.98 seconds.

Aaron Brown captured his third consecutive men's 200 title in 20.24, while Crystal Emmanuel easily won her sixth women's 200 title in 22.83. Both Brown and Emmanuel won the 100 a day earlier, and both have already qualified for Tokyo. 

Warner is the world No. 1-ranked decathlete this season after shattering his Canadian decathlon record at the Hypo-Meeting in Austria last month with the fourth-highest score in history. He set a decathlon world record for hurdles there with his time of 13.36.

It was a remarkable performance considering Warner hadn't competed in a decathlon since the 2019 world championships, and because of travel restrictions and facility closures amid COVID-19, the 29-year-old was forced to train in an old, unheated hockey arena in his hometown of London, Ont.

Warner said the chance to get in a couple of events before the Tokyo decathlon was "really important."

"We would have liked to have more competitions in the leadup, but there was just not too many (opportunities). So, even though it wasn't ideal conditions, it was really nice to just have another competitive atmosphere, and then also see athletes that we haven't seen in two years. 

"That part is nice, because after all, track and field is a social thing, and there's a lot of great friendships that we built in the sport. And it's really nice to see some of those people."

The rain had let up by the time Brown and Emmanuel took the track for their 200 races. Both also appreciated the chance to race after a year that saw much of the track and field schedule scrapped due to the pandemic.

"Got a win, so that, first and foremost, was the best part," Brown said. "Ideally, even though I already had the (Olympic) standard, I hit it again today so that's cool, it was a season's best by a 100th of a second, so heading in the right direction, and in less than ideal conditions. 

"There are things I can improve and clean up, so I know I can get faster and it will set me up for the next couple races overseas. So for the most part, yeah, I would say it was a job well done today."

Emmanuel added: "I came out to execute two good races, see where I'm at for Tokyo, what I have to go back home and work on it to get ready. And I got the results I wanted and I'm happy."

Brown will head home to Florida before flying to Europe on Monday to compete on the Diamond League circuit. Canada's three-time Olympic medallist Andre De Grasse didn't run at the trials and will also race next week in Europe.

Nathaniel Mechler won the decathlon Saturday after a harrowing trip to Montreal. The Goldstone, Ont., athlete was driving to Montreal with a teammate on Thursday night when they blew a tire. They finally found a tow truck late that evening, but the driver would only take one of them due to COVID-19 protocols. Mechler hid in the trunk of their car for the rest of the trip to Montreal, arriving at 2:37 a.m.

"You know, life is never ideal, and if it was, it would be quite boring," Mechler posted on his Instagram. 

Mike Tate of London, Ont., won the men's 5,000 in a torrential downpour in 14:15.93. The three Olympic spots for that event were already all but locked up with Moh Ahmed, Justyn Knight and Luc Bruchet having the qualifying standard.

While the trials are mainly about fine-tuning for Warner, Brown and Emmanuel, for others, they're a last chance to hit qualifying standards in a season that has been full of roadblocks due to COVID-19.

Athletics Canada wasn't sure it would be able to even host the trials, with the third wave of the pandemic raging in parts of Canada, but finally got the green light about three weeks ago.

Two athletes ran Olympic qualifying standards on Friday: Lindsey Butterworth in the women's 800 and John Gay in the men's 3,000 steeplechase. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2021.

The Canadian Press