Edmonton's newest sports star

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:51 AM ET

EDMONTON -- The timing is perfect.

There's a vacancy to be filled.

Olympic gold and silver medal winner Pierre Lueders has decided to retire from bobsled.

And Olympic gold and silver medal winner Jennifer Heil says she's going to compete one more year in moguls and call it a career.

On the weekend, 21-year-old Paula Findlay officially filed her application for the position of the next local international sports star for Edmonton fans to follow.

It's been a long list of top-of-the-world wonders going back to Graham Smith, Diane Jones-Konihowski, Susan Nattrass, Kurt Browning and the steady stream of athletes after them.

"Oh dear," said mom Sheila when I suggested that. "She's pretty shy."

And then, after a pause for thought ...

"I think she's ready for it."

The five-foot-six born-and-raised-in-Edmonton athlete surprised the triathlon world almost as much as she surprised herself when she won the World Championship Series race at the Hyde Park 2012 London Olympic Games site on Saturday.

On Tuesday, with the late afternoon arrival of Air Canada flight 899 at Edmonton International Airport, she received a taste of what it might be like to be the latest to follow in the footsteps of previous local international sports stars.

A considerable crowd, complete with television cameramen and photographers, surrounded the arrival doors at customs waiting for her.

"Excuse me," said one individual. "Who is Paula Findlay?"

The person she asked laughed.

"Last week nobody, really. Then she won a big triathlon on the Olympic course in London."

When Findlay emerged through the doors, there was no surprise on her face.

"I was warned," she said. "I was getting texts. But it's still a little overwhelming."

Basically, she said she has been doing this since she won Saturday in London.

"I'm not used to this. I really don't like the whole camera scene."

Waiting for her arrival was not only her mom, but dad Max and 17-year-old brother Colin. Missing was her 19-year-old sister Adrienne, who remains unaware of what happened to Paula on the weekend.

"Her sister is in Nepal volunteering. We've sent her messages and everything but we're not trying overly hard to get hold of her. She's got some pretty impressive stuff she's doing right now, too."

Sounds like a family with some focus.

But Tuesday belonged to the first-born, the little redhead you can pick out in the pack a mile away

"She gets the hair from her dad and everything else from me," her mom joked before her daughter's plane landed.

"It's exciting. It's what you dream for your kids so hard," said Sheila.

But not too hard.

"We were up watching at 6 a.m. I was kind of hoping for top 10. You don't want to hope for too much," said Sheila.

Although she's won recognition by winning bronze at last year's Under-23 World Championships and her first World Cup against a largely no-name field in Monterrey, Mexico, in April, Findlay just beat the big girls in one of the seven big events of the season and now there's a sudden need to know a lot more about this young woman.

More than that she started out as a swimmer at 10 and took up track at 15 and then added a bike and put them together a couple years later.

Like most overnight success stories, this one has been a while in the making.

"It's definitely not overnight. We knew what the potential has been. In some ways, it's been a long time coming," said her mom.

But still. It happened.

"I'm still in shock," Findlay said. "I've watched these girls race on TV. To me, they're big celebrities. To me, they are so great. And I was out there competing against them and winning.

"I don't know what this means for the 2012 London Olympics. But I hope so. Judging by this, I hope I can be there."

Judging by this, you better get used to those cameras, kid.


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