LONDON — Damian Warner's dreams of a world decathlon title may have been dashed by a unsparing stomach bug before he even stepped onto the London Stadium track for his first event.
And in the moments after his heartbreaking fifth-place finish at the world track and field championships — 10 events over two disappointing days later — the 27-year-old from London, Ont., lamented the week that got away.
"It's really frustrating because next year there's no world championships," Warner said. "These are the guys that I want to compete against. These are the guys that I want to beat. I'm not going to see those guys at a world championships until two years from now."
Those guys are Kevin Mayer of France, the world champion with 8,768 points, Germany's Rico Freimuth who claimed silver with 8,564, and Kai Kazmirek of Germany, who took bronze with 8,488.
Warner, who was only a day out of quarantine when he began the event, scored 8,309 points, unable to dig himself out of a hole after his first three sub-par events — the 100 metres, long jump and shot put.
"Just those first three events were really, really tough," he said.
"Motivation-wise, a lot of stuff was tough," he added. "Especially the second day. Usually going into the 1,500 (the final event), you have all these nerves, and you have kind of like a goal, catch this person, or don't let this person pass you. Today was like 'Just finish.' That was the goal today and I just tried my best to go out there and finish strong.
"There's some positives to take away. But they're just really hard to find right now."
With one day remaining, Warner's fifth was the best result for a Canadian team battered by one mishap after another.
The men's 5,000 was the day's highlight for Canada with two Canadians competing for the first time in history. Mohammed Ahmed was sixth, while 21-year-old Justyn Knight was ninth.
Canada's men's 4x100-metre relay, missing its injured star Andre De Grasse, finished sixth.
Warner won bronze at the 2013 world championships and silver two years ago in Beijing behind American superstar Ashton Eaton. After thoroughly dominating the decathlon for years, Eaton announced his retirement in January, vacating the top spot on the podium. Warner had a decent shot of claiming it in London.
Instead, he missed a major international podium for the first time since the 2012 Olympics, where he was also fifth in the same London stadium.
Warner fell ill after Tuesday's practice with the viral gastroenteritis that has swept like a prairie grassfire through the Canadian team's hotel. He spent 48 hours in quarantine and had just one light practice on Thursday afternoon before competition began Friday.
Warner was fourth after Day 1. But traditionally stronger on the first day, he knew he faced a massive uphill climb to the podium on Day 2. He was briefly third Saturday morning after winning the 110-metre hurdles in 13.63, but that's as high as he would scale. He dropped to fifth after the discus and remained there through the final three events — pole vault, javelin and 1,500 metres.
On the heels of his bronze at last summer's Rio Olympics, Warner and his girlfriend Jen Cotten, a former 400 hurdler, left their hometown of London, Ont., to train in Calgary with Les Gramantik.
If the new partnership is yielding promising results, it was impossible to tell at these world championships.
"I think a lot's working. I wasn't able to show it here. I felt pretty terrible for a lot of events," Warner said. "Time will tell if it was the right decision, but I definitely at this moment think it was."
Gramantik said the disappointment as a coach rivalled the 1996 Olympics with Michael Smith (he struggled with over-hydration and finished 13th), and Jessica Zelinka at the 2012 Games (she finished seventh after a fifth-place finish four years earlier in Athens.)
"Damian exhibited incredible strength to be able to compete," Gramantik said. "His energy system was greatly compromised so most of the events with power application was negatively affected. . . I know we will be back strong after this experience."
After he'd mercifully crossed the 1,500 finish line to end a terrible two days, Warner was happy to spot Cotten in the crowd.
"She was crying," Warner said. "It really helped having her here, going through events when you feel mentally exhausted and you want to quit, and you see Jen in the crowd. Even though you're pretty upset, she always has a way to make you smile."
In the 5,000, Ahmed stuck with a lead group that featured British star Mo Farah in his final race, for all but the final lap. The 26-year-old from St. Catharines Ont., who was fourth in the event in Rio, finished in 13 minutes 35.43 seconds.
"I felt pretty good, I was gathering myself for that last 400 metres, I was in position with 400 metres to go, and I just didn't have enough," Ahmed said. "They just hit another top gear that I didn't have, and I couldn't hang."
Ahmed, who was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, had raced to eighth in the 10,000 metres last week. Both finishes are Canadian bests. But not good enough for Ahmed.
"I have aspirations to be on the podium, winning it," he said. "That's the frustrating part, is not being close enough."
Toronto's Knight finished in 13:39.15, and the young runner was one of the few Canadians actually smiling on Saturday, calling the race a "huge learning experience."
Knight appreciated the historical significance of being in Farah's last world race.
"As soon as the race was over, and I was on top of the stands doing the media, I took a second to observe and I saw (Farah) doing his victory lap and crowd was going crazy," Knight said. "It was just something really special."
Farah had to settle for silver after Ethiopia's Muktar Edris edged him out for gold crossing in 13:32.79. Farah crossed in 13:33.22.
And in a 4x100 punctuated by Jamaican star Usain Bolt pulling up with a hamstring cramp in a dramatic final leg, Canada's team of Gavin Smellie, Brown, Brendon Rodney, and Mobolade Ajomale finished in 38.59. The team was missing star Andre De Grasse, who withdrew from the meet with a hamstring injury. Great Britain took the gold, the U.S. was second, while Japan followed in third.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press
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