General News

Pierce LePage Has arrived and He Could Be Canada’s Next Great Decathlete

GOLD COAST, Australia — There was little doubt the Canadian flag would be raised during the decathlon medal ceremony at Carrara Stadium on Tuesday.

More surprising was the man for whom it was raised.

Capitalizing on the stunning elimination of defending Commonwealth Games champion Damian Warner (the leader through seven of 10 events no-heighted in the pole vault) fellow Canadian, and Games rookie, Pierce LePage posted a personal-best overall score to take the silver medal behind Grenada’s Lindon Victor.

Less than 24 hours after his attention-grabbing medal win, the 22-year-old is moving a bit slow, sore from a tough couple of competition days. Emotionally, though, he’s jumping for joy.

“I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet. I’ve kind of taken everything really slow,” LePage says from a patio seat in the athletes’ village, still beaming. “When I finished it felt amazing. I’ve never been in a stadium or a Games like that where there are so many people cheering for you and rooting for you.

“It’s a surreal experience, winning your first international medal on a big stage. It’s something you’ll always remember.”

National team coach Jeff Huntoon says the entire Athletics Canada team is thrilled with LePage’s rapid progress.

“Everybody’s just ecstatic with the development,” Huntoon says. “For me, it was watching [LePage’s] composure over all 10 events, just staying in there and continuing to grind. It was a great effort over two days.”

Train. Work. Repeat.

It hasn’t been your typical path to track and field glory for the native of Whitby, Ont., a suburb of Toronto.

“My whole track and field story is a little weird,” LePage says.

He started with the triple jump in elementary school and competed in it until high school, when he decided he wanted to start training in more events but was told he was too young.

But by the end of his Grade 11 year, LePage began working with his current personal coach, Gregory Portnoy. When Portnoy thought LePage was ready, he wanted the young athlete to broaden his horizons, not just focus on one discipline.

“I ended up being OK at everything, and one day he was like ‘Hey, Pierce, you want to do an octathlon?’ I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” LePage says, laughing.

What he got into was a life that revolves around training, which he does six days a week with the aim of practising two of the 10 decathlon events each day. LePage also works part-time at the York University facility where he trains and lives just off campus.

Huntoon credits LePage’s dedication for his success at the Commonwealth Games.

“You usually exude [composure] when you’ve got that going pretty well, daily, in practice. Having been a part of that, kind of watching the progress at York where they train everyday, it’s been fun for me to watch.”

Though not on the radar of many casual track and field fans, LePage has been making a steady climb. He broke the Canadian junior decathlon record in 2015 and won the decathlon title at the 2017 Canadian track and field championships after Warner declined to compete as he prepared for the upcoming world championships.

Another key moment in his development came thanks to LePage’s victory in the RBC Training Ground competition in Toronto in 2016. As part of his prize, he was sent to the Rio Olympics to get a first-hand look at the life of an Olympic athlete.

“Actually winning and going to experience Rio was something amazing,” he says. “Now that I’m in a Games experience, being in Rio helped me prepare for all of that — the atmosphere and the craziness of being in the Games.”

When he has some down time, LePage enjoys playing video games, specifically the esports favourite League of Legends.

“If I’m not training, I’m playing video games. That’s what I did before track, and that’s what I do when I’m not on the track,” he says. “I’m a huge advocate for esports. I think it’s the future.”

LePage is also interested in criminal law. He completed one year of a law and society undergrad program at York before putting it on the backburner to focus on training.

“Balancing track and doing school… at the time it was too much for me,” he says. “It was too much, too stressful, so I ended up taking a break and I think the plan is to go back next year with a lighter course load.”

Stepping stones

Now that he’s got a major medal win under his belt, LePage has his next two goals in the crosshairs: the world championships in Qatar in 2019 and the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.

“For me, the Commonwealth Games were a stepping stone for worlds next year, and worlds are a stepping stone for the Olympics.”

But right now it’s time for a break. LePage will try to recover from a tough competition by enjoying the Commonwealth Games experience, living in the athletes’ village and cheering on his Games roommate, Deryk Theodore, in the pole vault.

Since he spends his time training alone, the team atmosphere is the one thing — aside from the medal, of course — that LePage has enjoyed most in Australia.

“If I’m being honest, it’s better than where I live,” he says of his setup in the village. “I’m going to watch [Theodore] pole vault tomorrow, then hopefully after that we’ll go do something.

“Maybe hit the beach.”

Story and Photo: CBC Sports