ITU HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
WHITFIELD’S NEW MISSION
Every morning he would write at the top of his training log, “I am going to be an Olympic champion.” It started in 1997, when he moved from his home in Kingston, Ont. to Victoria. Day in, day out, that’s what got written at the top of each page. (OK, there was one day, Nov. 23, that started “slept in today,” but right afterwards he wrote his daily Olympic champ mantra.)
So while the rest of the world might have been surprised that a freshfaced 25-year-old from Canada took the sport’s first men’s gold medal at the Olympic games in Sydney, Australia in 2000, Simon Whitfield wasn’t. He’d been preparing himself for that moment for years.
“Our biggest challenge is belief,” he said at the ITU Hall of Fame induction ceremony in September, pulling out that training log to show everyone how he had written down that message to himself each and every day.
He’s 40 now, retired from the sport that gave him so much for so long. He did his first triathlon, a Kids of Steel race in Sharbot Lake, wearing “boxer shorts with Mickey Mouse” on them, he remembers. He recalls that he “got smoked” in that race, but it inspired him to pursue the sport. His induction into the Hall of Fame was a no-brainer. While he finished a disappointing 11th at the 2004 games in Athens, he bounced back to take the silver medal in 2008. In 2012 a freak bike crash coming out of T1 saw him break his collar bone and end his Olympic career with a DNF. Along the way he racked up 12 Canadian championships (10 of those in a row), took gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2002 and won 14 world cup titles, including the sport’s biggest payday at the time, the Hy Vee championship.
The sport has given him so much, but he’s paid back in spades. He’s been an outspoken advocate for his teammates, a mentor for many of Canada’s up-and-coming stars and been an integral spokesperson for the sport as it has grown in Canada since his big win in Sydney. His contributions go way beyond that, though. When Loreen Barnett, the ITU secretary general, called him up a few years ago to ask if he would help raise money for a Vancouver food bank, he offered up 10 days of training. Ten age group athletes paid $1,000 each for the chance to spend a day training with Whitfield.
At 40 he’s still the fresh-faced, fun-loving guy who transformed the sport 15 years ago, but he’s also a lot more introspective about his career and the sacrifices he’s made along the way. After years of being somewhat shy during public appearances, he’s become an incredible public speaker.
Whitfield dreamed of being an Olympic gold medallist. He also always dreamed of being in the Hall of Fame – determined to make a difference in the sport he loves so much. But were all the sacrifices worth it? He wrestles with that. In 2012, as he prepared for the Olympic Games in London, he sat down one day and figured out just how much time he’d spent away from home, leaving his wife Jennie at home with their two daughters – five months that year alone. In hindsight he wishes he could go back and figure out how to pursue his triathlon dreams without having to leave them for so long.
Great champions analyze, learn and make changes once they see those are needed. The morning after Whitfield’s induction ceremony he was on a plane from Chicago back to Victoria. He’s the coach of his daughter’s soccer team and they had a game he was determined to get to. Simon Whitfield will continue to be a spokesman for our sport, but his most important role right now is that of a father. His triathlon family required so much of his time and energy for years. We’ll still get some of that, but the main focus will be on the family closer to home.
They don’t hand out gold medals for dads, but I know Whitfield is going to be striving for the equivalent.
Whitfield speaking after being inducted to the ITU Hall of Fame