March 27, 2011
Edmonton back on the map
By TERRY JONES, QMI Agency
EDMONTON - If Edmonton sports fans loved having individual international athletes to follow dating back to Kurt Browning and thought they might miss it with the recent retirements of Jenn Heil and Pierre Lueders, relax.
Tara Whitten and Paula Findlay proved on the weekend that they've moved in to fill the void.
Whitten defended her title as world champion in cycling's omnium in the Netherlands, while triathlon shooting-star Findlay proved she's not a one-year wonder in the start of a new season in her sport in Australia.
With Whitten's event, the omnium, having no high-profile history and cycling having very little profile at all in Canada, Findlay -- despite only bursting onto the international scene late last season -- is probably the better known of the two.
But back-to-back world titles in an event about to make its Olympic debut is sure to bring Whitten more notice as the countdown to London 2012 continues. Even if she's worried that the clock is working against her.
What in the world is an omnium? It's cycling's version of a decathlon or pentathlon.
Held over two days, it's a combination of six events -- a 200-metre flying lap, a points race, an elimination race, individual pursuit, time trial and a scratch race.
Whitten, a Commonwealth Games gold-medal winner, won the event without finishing first in any of the events. She was, however, second in three of them at the event in Apeldoorn.
"This event is so hard to predict that to come out on top two years in a row is just incredible," said Whitten, a 30-year-old former member of Canada's cross-country ski team.
"To be able to defend the title means a lot," she told reporters on a conference call Sunday.
"It's one thing to have the race of your life and win one year but to come back and be able to win the event the next year with everybody gunning for you ...
"I didn't know if I could do it. I'm just amazed and thrilled that I did."
But with 16 months to go to London, Whitten isn't sure where the rest of the world will be when the Olympics arrive.
"I know where I stand now, but it's a new Olympic event and that means people are going to make big improvements as the Olympics approach.
"I need to keep improving in all of the events. Even this year, compared to last year, I felt there was more depth and you can tell people are really trying to focus on this event."
Findlay, the 21-year-old Edmonton redhead was in Mooloolaba, Australia, where she finished fourth in her first event prior to the April 9 ITU world championship series event in Sydney.
The University of Alberta medical student, who made history by becoming the first Canadian to win a world-championship and the only woman in the world to win back-to-back in 2010, watched New Zealand's Nicky Samuels, Australia's Emma Moffat and Chile's Barbara Riveros finished 1-2-3. It is summer in all three of those countries and Findlay's legs weren't as race ready as the rest.
"The run is where I feel I can improve the most at this point. I was a bit flat and my legs felt heavy," she said. "But I'm confident that a few more weeks training will make me feel better for Sydney."
Findlay won her first world-championship at the Hyde Park London Olympic course and followed it with a win at Kitzbuhel, the Austrian town where the Crazy Canucks ski team became legend.
She intends to race both those events, as well as one scheduled in Beijing, and one to replace a stop in Yokohama, Japan.
Edmonton fans will have their first chance to watch Findlay as the city plays host to a July 10 World Cup event.
While she charges toward the top in triathlon, and Whitten is concerned about others running past her, it's going to be an interesting pair to follow on their way to London 2012.