Canadian decathlete Damian Warner shows off his gold medal during a homecoming event to celebrate Canadian Olympians who participated in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, at CF Sherway Gardens, Toronto, Thursday August 12, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eduardo Lima

Canada welcomes home Olympians after Tokyo Games with an outdoor drive-in celebration

Canada welcomes home Olympians after Tokyo Games with an outdoor drive-in celebration

TORONTO — Team Canada’s athletes are being welcomed home now that the torch at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games has been extinguished.

The athletes spent more than two weeks in Japan competing, while overcoming numerous obstacles to bring in the country’s highest medal count at a non-boycotted Games.

Team Canada racked up 24 medals, including seven gold, and ranked 11th overall in the standings. That stands only behind the boycotted Los Angeles Games of 1984 (10 gold, 44 overall).

The Canadian Olympic Committee hosted a homecoming event in Toronto on Thursday for some of the athletes who are ready to spend the next little while with their families, basking in the glow of their accomplishments.

Tokyo 2020 decathlon gold-medal champion Damian Warner, who was given the honour of carrying the Canadian flag into the closing ceremony at the Games, says despite not getting too much sleep since flying home a few days ago, his win still feels “awesome” and he’s excited to share it with his loved ones.

“It was one of those things where we were gone for I think it was like 25 days. We have a little boy now so it was a long time away from family and a long time away from the people that supported me and helped me get to the Games in the first place, so it was really nice to come home and share that time with them,” Warner said.

When thinking about the gold medal hanging around his neck, Warner said he used to watch other athletes like Donovan Bailey, and it was those athletes who gave him the inspiration to be an Olympian.

“My mom when I was younger told me you can do anything you set your mind to and I set my sights on the decathlon and the Olympics,” he said. “It’s one of those things that’s really special when you finally achieve something that you set out for.”

The 31-year-old said he had coaches in high school — who are still his coaches to this day — that encouraged him to do the decathlon in his teen years. From then on, Warner had chosen his future.

“I didn’t know what (a decathlon) was back then but I trusted them and its led me to some great places,” he said.

Trampolinist and two-time gymnastics Olympic champion Rosie MacLennan says she’s been able to spend some time with her family which has been a long time coming since she hasn’t seen them for “quite some time” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“To be able to come out to an event like this and feel so much joy and have so much fun with all the other athletes and everyone welcoming us home it’s been really good,” MacLennan said, noting her husband would be joining her at the outdoor drive-in celebration held at Sherway Gardens.

MacLennan had previously been nursing an injured ankle and pushed herself to make it to Tokyo. The 32-year-old managed to place fourth, just shy of the podium.

“Obviously, the lead up into Tokyo was a little bit different than what I had hoped for,” she said. “I was incredibly lucky to be surrounded by a lot of support, both physical support and also mental health support through my mental performance coach. But it has been really nice to be able to come back, take a step back, just have some time to recover, recuperate, spend some time with my family, so that’s been really great.”

Two-time silver and bronze medalist Kayla Sanchez said she’s been back in Canada for 10 days and has had lots of time to catch up on sleep and spend time with friends and family.

The 20-year-old swimmer said being back on Canadian soil has been “pretty surreal” for her, noting that she was at a “loss for words” when it finally hit her that she and her teammates had won the silver medal in the women’s 4x100m freestyle, kicking off the Olympics with a medal and a spot on the podium for Canada.

“When you’re in Tokyo, … you didn’t really realize the impact until you got home and that was pretty fun,” she said. “I love the support and it makes the sport really fun.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanchez said she was out of the pool for about four months.

“I actually missed swimming. I was running five kilometres, like oh my god, I need the pools to open up like right now,” she said. “When I’m swimming, I just know that its something that I’m meant to be doing.”

Warner said he is already looking ahead to the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, while also keeping an eye on being a world champion and the fastest man alive.

“Obviously the decathlon gold medal was the biggest thing that I have ever wanted to achieve but the world record is also up there. I believe that I’m capable of breaking the world record in the decathlon, but also it’d be really cool to go back and to defend this title in 2024,” he said. “There’s still some really big dreams and some things that I think I can achieve in this sport and I’m looking forward to them.”

Similarly, Sanchez said she’s already moving on to the next Olympics, but is currently getting ready to jump on a plane to Naples, Italy to swim at the International Swimming League.

For MacLennan, the plan is to focus on recovering fully from her ankle injury while enjoying the rest of the summer by spending time with her family.

“I always try and process one Games before I make any plans so that’s really what I’m trying to do right now,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2021.

Elena De Luigi, The Canadian Press

Olympics