For Canadian sprinter Justyn Warner the Olympic dream began on a stretch of rubber at York University
The Toronto Track and Field Centre is a non-descript brown brick building that squats beside a construction site on the northern edge of York University. Needless to say, the place doesn’t exactly scream “dream factory.” But for Canadian Olympian and 100-metre champion Justyn Warner, who has trained out of the facility off and on since he was 12, every trip over the threshold is freighted with meaning.
“Every time I walk into York, it brings back memories from when I was young,” Warner says. “From beating guys who were a year or two older than me to the first time I went under seven seconds in the 60 to, just last year, beating Ben Johnson’s indoor record.”
The Centre’s played host to so many of Warner’s triumphs because its 33-year-old track is the only one in the city of Toronto fit for high-level training and competition.
“The other track is [at the University of Toronto] downtown, but their indoor track isn’t that great,” Warner says. “We’re always talking about having more facilities around the city, but it’s hard when not as many people care about the sport.”
Despite continuing that difficult battle for hearts, minds and resources, Warner acknowledges that a single track serving the needs of local athletes of all ages and skill levels can have its advantages. Three decades of Canada’s greatest runners-including Warner’s coach, 1984 Olympic bronze medallist Desai Williams-have powered their way down its straits. As a young sprinter, Warner could occasionally catch inspiring glimpses of Priscilla Lopes-Schliep and Perdita Felicien. And on days when his own training stretches into the evening, he can now provide the same thrill to a new generation. The concentration of talent also helps when looking for training partners. Elite Edge, the high performance group that Warner trains with, boasts eight Olympians and “is the group you need to be training with if you want to make an Olympic team.”
Warner has deep personal connections to the Centre as well. His father, Ian Warner Sr., has been Elite Edge’s strength and conditioning coach for the past two years, and his wife, Olympic hurdler Nikkita Warner, is one of his training partners. As kids, Warner and Nikkita started with the same track club and trained out of the Centre. Separated while attending university-both went to the U.S. on track scholarships; Warner to Texas Christian University, Nikkita to Illinois-they reunited at the Centre.
“That’s basically how we got back together,” Warner says. The two were married in October.
With his wife and father to spur him on, Warner is looking to the future. “Right now, I’m focused on the outdoor season and making the world championship team for Russia,” he says. “Another goal is to run under 10 seconds.” He pauses for much longer than the tenth of a second he has to trim to hit his mark. “I’m pretty close.”