With 10 events spread over two days—a 100-meter sprint, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400-meter sprint, 110-meter hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin throw, and a 1500-meter race—there is no Olympic event quite as imposing as the decathlon. Every athlete has a diet and training regimen that is tailored to their sport, but for decathletes, this diet and training regimen must be tailored to maximize performance in ten separate events, many of which would entail very different optimal regimens if only decathletes had the luxury of taking them on one at a time.
Damian Warner, a 29-year-old Canadian decathlete from London, Ontario, began experimenting with the event back in high school at the suggestion of his then-basketball coach. Just a decade later, he boasts gold medals from both the Commonwealth Games (in 2014) and Pan American Games (in 2015), and took home bronze at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. In between recent training sessions—with that same coach, incidentally—Warner spoke to GQ about the importance of diet, training, recovery, and visualization to becoming an elite decathlete. For the man who wants to become world champion, it turns out that visualization might be the most important ingredient of all.
If the Olympics were next week, our training would be scaled back—a lot more recovery- and rest-based. Early in the season, it’s a lot of fitness-based work, getting your body ready to do all the training. We try to do all the events through the week. We usually do a run, jump, and throw. On Mondays and Thursdays, maybe Saturdays, we’ll do harder running. Pole vault once or twice a week, and long jump once or twice a week, too.
I’ve never really been extreme when it comes to my diet. I try to follow guidelines like making sure I get enough protein, and making sure I’m eating quickly after practice. I try to eat a healthy diet and live a healthy lifestyle, but I don’t hold too many restrictions or be too strict about things.
Nutrition is extremely important, and it’s something I take seriously. At the same time, if I’m at a birthday party, I’m not going to not eat cake because I think it’s going to affect my training. If you eat takeout food and drink pop all the time, it’s going to affect your performance, and that’s not something I want to do. But I want to make sure I can relax a little bit and trust myself when it comes to the food situation. Besides, I do think a lot of people would be surprised how much food is needed, especially when you’re doing any sport, let alone ten of them.
Vince Carter, when I was growing up. I got to meet him in Toronto a couple of years ago, and he was an awesome guy. LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden, all these guys that are at a super-high level in their sport . The coolest thing is going to a basketball game, not necessarily to watch the game, but to watch them warm up. Like, you see them miss in the game because they have another amazing athlete guarding them. When they warm up, they don’t miss at all.
Hockey games, too—you don’t realize how fast it is. At a football game, you don’t realize how big those guys actually are until you see it up close. It’s similar in my sport as well. You don’t realize how fast Usain Bolt actually is until you actually see him run, and understand how fast everyone else is around him, too.
I don’t think people understand how mentally tough it will be. When you do a decathlon over 48 hours, the amount of time you spend actually doing physical activity is along the lines of 10 or 11 minutes, which is kind of crazy. There’s a lot of sitting around and thinking about the next event, and that’s where people really get exhausted. I think it’s very similar to golf: You do one thing, then you have a lot of time in between, and then you do another thing. If you had a really bad event, that can affect you for a long time. Same way if you have a good event, too—that can drain your energy really quickly if you’re not able to reset.
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Sleep is something I took advantage of early on, and I really make sure I’m getting good, quality sleep every night. I set a bedtime, set a wake-up time, and make sure it’s consistent throughout the year. I think it’s extremely important for recovery, but also for how you are able to focus. I aim to get eight hours or more each night.
Twice a week, I see a physical therapist or massage therapist. One thing we believe in is injury prevention, rather than trying to deal with it once it comes up, because that’s hard to do. From a personal standpoint, that’s foam-rolling, stretching, all that kind of stuff. I try to do that as often as I can.
I’ve always done visualization, too. When I was in high school, I used to watch a lot of videos, and then fall asleep visualizing myself doing the event. I feel like it’s played some role in helping me learn. I also speak to a sports psychologist once a week to talk about visualization and mental strength—all that kind of stuff. The Olympics only come around once every four years. It’s not something you get to experience too often. If you don’t visualize yourself in these types of situations, when you get there, you could be really shocked. I’m a very visual learner, so I try to put myself in those positions so I can pick up things pretty quickly.
then it’s like, “Oh, okay. This is a kind of cool experience I just had.” You’re so tired that you can’t put the pieces together. You’re able to kind of relive it by watching videos, and sometimes it’s like, “When did that happen?” It’s like a dream, almost.” data-reactid=”49″>It takes a few days to hit you. After the decathlon, you’re too tired. In Rio, after I finished, I was unsure what even happened. All I really could think was, “Where is my family? I want to see my family?” Then there’s a couple of days of soreness, and then it’s like, “Oh, okay. This is a kind of cool experience I just had.” You’re so tired that you can’t put the pieces together. You’re able to kind of relive it by watching videos, and sometimes it’s like, “When did that happen?” It’s like a dream, almost.
want to do, not something that I have to do.” I want to be a world record holder, and this is what a world record holder would do.” data-reactid=”51″>Obviously, there are moments during a hard run where you’re like, “I want to stop.” But in those moments, I just always think of my goals. I have some pretty big goals. I want to be a world champion, an Olympic champion. Whenever those situations come up, I think, “This is something I want to do, not something that I have to do.” I want to be a world record holder, and this is what a world record holder would do.
For a while, I had these goals in my head, but was kind of scared to say them out loud. Then there was a moment where I thought, “How is anybody else going to believe I’m capable of these goals if I’m not even able to say it myself?” So now it’s something I don’t shy away from. I understand that there’s a chance of failure, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take. I’ll make myself vulnerable in order to achieve them.