February 22, 2012
Simon Whitfield: The Running Man
By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Triathlon legend Simon Whitfield likes to joke about his age. He’s 36, turning 37 in May, and will be one of the oldest members of Canada’s 2012 London Olympic Games team.
But Whitfield’s training leading up to the London Games this summer is no joke. In fact, the 2000 Sydney Olympic triathlon gold medallist said Wednesday that he is training harder for the London Games than he ever has before, and is going to greater lengths than ever to put himself in a position to win.
In town to promote the inaugural Toronto Triathlon Festival on July 22, Whitfield said he has upped his already brutal training regimen a good 25% this season and plans to return to New Zealand in March for a gruelling five-week training camp, his second trip Down Under this winter.
“It’s about taking a risk,” said the Kingston native, who now lives in Victoria, B.C. “I know what level I was at. I know how to come in 12th — in the last three years that’s kind of where I figured I’d be. (He finished the 2011 season ranked 28th in the ITU world standings). So I’m taking a risk to push forward to get those medals (in London). I don’t play the game to come in 12th.”
The two-time Olympic medallist doesn’t have to prove anything, but he does want to show the world that he’s not a spent force in international triathlon. Though he’s in the twilight of his great career, he is hoping to bounce back this season with a medal in London after a couple of sub-par seasons. That’s the reason why he’s thinking outside of the box in his training — including the trips to faraway New Zealand. He was already there in January and is pumped about going back, even though it’s a tough slog under pretty Spartan conditions. Whitfield will train with members of New Zealand’s national team and French triathlon star Laurent Vidal, at a isolated area known as Snow Farm, located 1,540 metres up a mountain on the South Island.
“It’s the simplicity of it,” said Whitfield, when asked about the attraction of the place. “You drive up a 13K gravel road every day and there’s nothing up there but lodging, a kitchen and training — and 20 young Kiwis (triathletes) just champing at the bit. There’s no distraction, there’s nothing, it’s kind of a pure sports experience. It was great fun. I cherished every bit of it (in January).”
Whitfield said the experience gave him a new joy for training and respect for the way the New Zealand team trains.
“The first couple of days there I was thinking: ‘These kids are crazy,’ ” he said, with a laugh. “And then all of a sudden, I was in the thick of it and thinking: ‘Wait a minute, I can do all of this, just like I always used to.’
“The Kiwi boys have no fear,” he added. “It has something to do with that Kiwi spirit. They’re tough and they don’t put any real limitations on what they can do. And just being around that was invigorating. I came home smiling ear to ear, and since then I haven’t missed a beat.”
Whitfield describes his training regimen this season — the intensity and the travel — as a risk and a sacrifice. He’ll be away from his two young girls, Pippa Katherine and Evelyn, and wife Jennie, for an extended period of time this spring. After the camp in New Zealand, he’ll race at the ITU World Series event in Sydney, Australia on April 14, followed by the ITU race in San Diego on May 12 and probably the Edmonton World Cup on July 8. His final event of the season before the Olympic Games race, Aug.7, will be the Toronto Triathlon Festival on July 22, where he’ll participate in the sprint event. He’ll also spend some time in Boulder, CO training at altitude before London.
Whitfield said he is stoked for the Toronto event and revealed that he’ll likely hang on to compete at the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games.
“I’m competitive. I try to forget that I’m getting older, I just like racing,” said Whitfield, when asked about the 2015 Games. “The Pan Am Games. Toronto. Who wouldn’t want to be there?”
Organizers of the Toronto Triathlon Festival are hoping the event becomes a sanctioned World Cup race by 2014.