28 MAY 2013 Feature

Warner and Theisen ready to make their marks in Moscow

Damian Warner at the 2013 hypo Meeting in Gotzis (PHOTO PLOHE)Damian Warner at the 2013 hypo Meeting in Gotzis (PHOTO PLOHE) © Copyright

Canada enjoyed a hugely impressive weekend at the legendary Mosle Stadium in the Austrian town of Gotzis, known among fans as the temple of Combined Events as Damian Warner and Brianne Theisen braved unseasonably poor weather conditions to triumph at the famous Hypo Meeting last Sunday.

Warner won with 8307 points while Theisen set a 2013 world-leading score of 6376 points, just 64 points short of her personal best.

In a contrast between the two of fulfilled expectations, Warner’s win was not a surprise. After all as he finished fifth last year at the London 2012 Olympic Games, where he stood out as someone to watch in the future s he improved his previous best by 335 points when scoring 8442 points in his breakthrough competition.

Warner became the second Canadian decathlete to conquer Gotzis 17 years after Michael Smith won the 1996 edition with 8626 points.

His 8307 points score puts him in the world this year, behind Germany’s Michael Schrader , who achieved 8427 points in a comeback performance in Ulm, and Belarus’s Andrei Krauchanka, who got 8390 points at the recent Multistars meeting in Florence.

Warner was born in London, Ontario, on 4 November 1989 and began his athletics career as a sprinter and long jumper.

“I actually started with the sprints and Long Jump. My coach asked then me to try combined events”, said Warner reflecting on his beginning in the combined events.

Warner a quick learner

In 2010, he finished second in the decathlon at the Canadian Combined Events Championships with a score of 7449 points and went on to win the following two editions of the national title. He made his first international championship when he went to  the 2011 World Championships in Daegu where he finished a modest 18th.

In 2012, he won the Canadian title with 8107 points, which was below the A qualifying standard of 8200 points for the London 2012Olympic Games but he was selected to go to London as he was seen as a good prospect for the future.

Warner repaid the faith of the Canadian selectors with an outstanding performance in which he notched up six personal bests, surprising everyone when he was third overnight behind the US pair of Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee, after setting three new personal bests on the first day and then another three in the second half of the event.

 “I had a great time in London with my family, who came to attend my competition at the Olympic Games, but I thought that my fifth place would be possible (beforehand),” he added.

At least the weather was better  in London than in Gotzis, which made his result all the commendable.

“The weather made it really hard but we made the most of it, and now we are moving toward the World Championships in Moscow. Gotzis has the best crowd in the world. I really enjoyed their support. They clapped their hands all the time and were very energetic. It was tough but the weekend was awesome. On the first day, I had good performances in the 100m and in the High Jump. I was fast in the Hurdles, the Discus was also good but the Pole Vault was bad.

“It was really hard. I wasn’t sure of the score, I didn’t really keep track of it but I just wanted to win,” added Warner. His only other Decathlon before the World Championships will again be at the Canadian Championships.

Gotzis was originally expected to mark the debut of the USA’s Olympic champion and World record holder Ashton Eaton at the Mosle Stadium but he was forced to pull out a week before the meeting due to a minor injury sustained while high jumping in training.

Eaton upstaged

However, instead, it was Eaton’s girlfriend Brianne Theisen who grabbed the headlines in Gotzis.

If Warner’s win in Gotzis was a fairly reasonable bet after Eaton pulled out, you would have got far longer odds on Theisen coming out on top in a Heptathlon that also included Russia’s reigning World champion Tatyana Chernova.

Theisen admitted after the competition that she has not sunk in yet what she achieved. “When you are so young, you don’t fully realize how prestigious to win in Gotzis is. Once I get older, I will realize what I did”, said a delighted Theisen after crossing the 800m finish line.

 “I really enjoyed the atmosphere, the crowd and the music in the stadium. Everybody knows everything about Combined Events. I could not be happier. The High Jump and the Hurdles were very good. Aside from the two throwing events it was almost perfect.”

Theisen admitted that she was not bothered by the cold weather conditions. “Maybe that was my advantage as I am used to this kind of weather.  

During her high school years, Theisen was far from just an athlete and also played volleyball and football.

In her debut on the international stage, she finished 17th in the heptathlon at the 2005 IAAF World Youth Championships in Marrakesh. The following year, she finished in exactly the same position  at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Bejing but improved to win the 2007 Pan American Junior Championships gold medal which helped earn her a scholarship to the prestigious University of Oregon.

For the four years between 2009 and 2012, while studying for her degree in business administration, in which she recently graduation, she dominated American collegiate multi-event competitions.

In 2009, Theisen set a personal best of 6086 points to win the first of her three NCAA outdoor titles and that summer she went to the World Championships in Berlin, where she finished 15th.

The following year, she won her of first NCAA Pentathlon indoor titles with 4396 points and got her second NCAA outdoor win when she improved to 6094 points.

In 2011 she took her second NCAA indoor title breaking the collegiate Pentathlon record with 4540 points and last year she completed her hat trick of NCAA titles, both indoors and outdoors, when she scored 4536 points in the Pentathlon and achieved her current personal best of 6440 points in the Heptathlon.

Theisen is trained by Harry Marra, who also guided Eaton to his various feats.

 “Harry has been involved in combined events for many years. He knows everything about this discipline”, said Theisen, who will be bidding to improve on her 11th place at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the World Championships this summer.

The chance to make a bit of history is there for Theisen, along with her compatriot Jessica Zelenka who finished seventh in London, as no Canadian women has won a multi-events medal at a global outdoor championship. In fact, no Canadian woman has finished in the top eight of the Heptathlon in the history of the World Championships.

Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF