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COLUMNISTS

Thu, August 12, 2004

Simon simply super


The scene won't be the same. The venue won't be Sydney Harbour. The famed Opera House won't provide the backdrop. And Simon Whitfield's 96-year-old grandmother won't be across the bay.

Whitfield was Canada's first glory at the Olympics four years ago.

GOLD MEDAL

Canada's first gold medal winner of the Sydney Olympics had dual citizenship. He could have competed for Australia. He could have had 150,000 people in the streets singing "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oye! Oye! Oye!"

Instead he stood to hear O Canada.

"They wanted him -- this could have been Australia's gold," coach Barrie Shepley said.

"Never," said Whitfield, who won the triathlon, a sport making its first appearance in the five-ring circus.

"I'm Canadian through and through. I love it in Canada. I love it in B.C. Canadians are the nicest people in the world."

Grandma is pretty nice, too.

"She just lives over there," he said at Sydney, pointing across the harbour.

Whitfield ran the race of his life and the former miler, who was born in Kingston but calls Victoria home, finished with a kick in the 10,000-metre run that was almost incomprehensible for a guy who had just swum 1,500 metres in Sydney Harbour and ridden a bike 40 kilometres.

"I just wanted it so bad," said Whitfield, who lists his two sports heroes as Wayne Gretzky and Sir Edmund Hillary.

But that was then. This is now. This time, triathlon is not batting leadoff on opening weekend but buried deep in the schedule. It's being held in Vouliagme, 45 kilometres from the Olympic Village in southern Athens. And this time Whitfield can't sneak in under the radar.

Four years ago, the Canadian media showed up the day before to watch Canadian contenders Sharon Donnelly and Carol Montgomery in the women's triathlon crash on the bike.

This year they'll be back they day before Whitfield defends to watch Pan Am Games triathlon champion Jill Savege of Penticton, B.C., who can compete for a medal if she's healthy and likes the course.

Veteran Montgomery, the 2002 Commonwealth Games gold-medal winner from Vancouver, and newcomer Samantha McGlone, 23, of St. Catharines, who qualified on the final day of selection at the Edmonton World Cup event last month, complete a competitive Canadian team.

SPOTLIGHT

As for Whitfield, he has 23-year-old Brent McMahon of Kelowna, B.C., as a teammate. But the defending champion is going to be in the spotlight all by himself, in part because he has been such a wonderful champion for the sport and his country.

"I'm prepared to defend," said Whitfield, who calls himself "a Games kind of guy."

There's an enthusiasm to Whitfield which is contagious.

"I'm really excited and motivated to make it happen again."

TRIATHLON

- Bevan Docherty, New Zealand

Reigning men's world champion.

- Dmitry Gaag, Kazakhstan

Third at 2004 worlds.

- Barbara Lindquist, U.S.

Strong contender for gold.

- Maxine Seear, Australia

World Cup champion.


Does Canada's low-medal haul in Athens bother you?
Yes, it depresses me
No, it's just sports
I'm disappointed, but not worried
We'll get 'em in Turin
Don't care

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