Yesterday, Simon Whitfield did officially announced his retirement. To honor is carrer, we are republishing the interview with did with him 8 months ago.
This interview is special for us since Simon’s performance in Beijing was our starting point. Whitfield has been one of the first athletes to embrace social media. With this new tool, he has opened windows that allow us to better understand the relentless pursuit of excellence of the elite. His ITU career might be over, but we have no doubt that he will give back to the sport. So we wanted to know what’s next for him.
London was a rough ride. Did it change your relationship with the triathlon community? Have you been attacked by many strong voices that over-analyzed every change of sponsorship or missed results like London? In the end, you are still the triathlete with the most Olympic medals, right?
London was an incredible experience, it’s the Olympic Games, I had the honour of being the Flag Bearer, something I’ll never forget. I arrived at the games in the best shape of my life, something I’m extremely proud of and I stood up for a teammate when it wasn’t just convenient and easy, and I did it because I felt it was the right thing to do.
I’m not really sure how it changed my relationship with the Canadian triathlon community. I can’t control people’s speculation, there will always be people with axes, ready to chop people down. If you’re referring to the situation with Paula, I stood up for my teammate just as the Chef de Mission Mark Tewskbury told us to do, stand by your teammates. Few can relate as I can to the pressure Paula was under, the weight of expectation. I have a message from Paula’s mom thanking me for supporting her daughter. That means far more to me then any misinformed drivel from the axe wielders.
Your DNF in London is also part of this magic since it’s a one shot deal, which, in part, makes the Olympics so special. After years of sacrifice and training, we all know that to be on the starting line was already a victory. Did you almost feel guilty when you know how a medal can change your life?
Preparation is everything to me, to get the most out of myself, to prepare, to sacrifice, to have the courage to truly commit to something. I arrived in London fully prepared, having done everything I could to stand on the start line and express all that hard work. I’m ok with the result, or lack there of, that’s life.
As the Tragically Hip song goes, « it’s a good life if you don’t break to many guitar strings and it’s a pretty good life if you do ».
We feel each Olympic Games have changed you. In a good and bad way. Can we say that we have a new Simon?
This is an interesting question. Yes each Olympics changed me, undeniably, this Olympics humbled me. As much as the axe wielders didn’t succeed in cutting me, they did bludgeon me over the head. I’m tired of fighting, of arguing, of being criticized. I’m tired of hearing people’s speculation as they try and manoeuvre their own agenda. It’s rarely positive, they’re never looking out for others. It’s exhausting, and frankly, it’s boring.
Some seem to believe you were treating your Canadian teammates as threats. Yet, you have been quite supportive of Kyle Jones early in his career. Where do you stand on this?
This question could read, « There are those who speculate »… this is a great example, there are few athletes I admire more, if any, than Kyle Jones. For the same reason I admire Javier, Laurent, Alistair, Jonathan. Kyle gets the most out of himself, he’s absolutely dedicated to his craft, he is relentless about his preparation. Some people are threatened by this, I’m inspired. It’s inspiring to be around Kyle, to see him work so hard each and everyday, I was never threatened by Kyle, there is no one I like to see express themselves in sport more than people like him.
Do you have incentive to move up to the 70.3 distance – to show that your form in London was really the best of your career? Still hungry for more?
My spirit is low now but I’m building on various projects, I’m working-out as compared to training. I don’t really have any races planned outside of some fun running races although I will be in Barrie Ontario June 15th for the Endurance Games and hopefully in Mont Tremblant for the 70.3 weekend, possibly to race, maybe just to watch.
I remember Steve Fleck saying that you will get bored in 70.3 because you need real racing with a lot of action, fighting for your position at any time. What are your thoughts on this?
Steve’s great, I’m not sure his speculation will be correct, I love preparing and competing with myself. We’ll see.
So you will not be racing an Ironman this year?
I’d love to do an Ironman, and I will one day but right now I’m focused on other things, including my children, providing and parenting. Ironman is a wonderful sport but it’s also a very selfish sport and right now I don’t have the single minded focus needed to prepare properly, it would come at too great a cost. We’ll see, if I can get things sorted out closer to home you may see me pop up on a start line somewhere, just for the experience.
But Kona is still on the long-term horizon?
Not likely as a professional no.
We would love to see you race in Quebec! What’s your schedule for 2013?
I’ll be in Calgary to run the Jugo Juice 10 Km, on May 26th. After that I’m hosting a training camp in Barrie Ontario June 12-16th in conjunction with the Endurance Games put on by Graham Fraser. I’m hoping to be in Mt. Tremblant the next weekend to experience what looks like an incredible event. I’m hosting another training camp in Penticton July 2nd to 6th leading into the Axel Merckx Gran Fondo before heading back to Toronto for the Toronto Triathlon Festival July 21st. In September I’ll be in Vancouver for the Gran Fondo with LongView Systems out of Calgary; Fort McMurray, Alberta, for their marathon weekend; Vegas for interbike with Power2max.ca and 4iiii.com; then off to Kelowna for the Intrepid Stage ride.
The Half IM World champs in Las Vegas is starting to look like a real world championship. In reality, by blocking active ITU athletes, we can’t say that Cave or Kienle could have beaten Spirig or Brownlee Bros/Gomez. Do you think that WTC should allow for wild card entries? Would it be bad for the sport?
I guess it just is what it is. There are too many World Champions in our sport. I’d personally like to see one year with an IM WC and an Olympic WC, the next year with a 70.3 WC and a Sprint WC. Someone needs to come up with a truly TV/spectator race, super sprint, all action, wait, I’m working on that.
There are a lot of questions about the age at which you can still be competitive in Olympic distance triathlon. You are famous for using this quote « the relentless pursuit of excellence. » Your age only becomes a handicap when you do not enjoy the process anymore. Where is your mind on this?
I’ll be relentless in whatever I put my mind too, whatever my age happens to be.
You are amongst the pioneers of racing triathlon using a « domestique approach » commonly used in road cycling. How does it feel seeing the British athletes adopting the approach?
For sure, I feel like we pioneered something, I was very proud of our team in 2008, we were fully committed and it paid off. The British were the same, they were there to win, they executed, it was an awesome thing to watch.
Do you think that you could have won a medal in London? Only if something happened to the Brownlees and to Gomez?
Ha, no. They took the sport to another level, watching the race from the medical tent was hard but the best result I could have had in that race would have been a rematch with Jan Frodeno (who had an absolutely incredible race considering everything he went through last year). I think I could have finished between 6th and 9th, we’ll never know.
How do you explain the domination of the Brownlees and Gomez? If they are on their race, they seem unbeatable. It’s not only about genetics right?
They are the best athletes our sports ever seen, it’s fun to watch, it was an honour to race amongst them. Every generation thinks the one behind them was slower and weaker, it’s in our nature. I’m ok with that. I prepared with the tools that I had.
Triathlon Canada & Co.
So what’s your relationship with Triathlon Canada? Are you going to be more involved with them since your experience is quite different than that of an administrator who’s never been under true pressure like you.
I don’t really have any relationship with Triathlon Canada. Essentially they’ve gone their way and I’ve gone mine. The last official communication I had with Triathlon Canada was a letter of reprimand for my social media blunder in London. I raced in Edmonton many many times, always answered the phone when they needed something, I remember running around the Butterdome in Edmonton after the 2000 Olympics with a few thousand kids. Now I have absolutely nothing to do with that race, I find this disappointing but as someone said, « we need some space », I’ll respect that and focus on my own endeavours. I’m not involved in any Triathlon Canada development programs or working with any young athletes in a mentoring role, I’ve reached out, there’s resistance so again I’ve backed off and will serve my time, do my own thing. Barrie Shepley has been incredibly supportive though and given me the opportunity to work alongside of him with his young athletes, I’m very appreciative of his continued support as its very fulfilling to work with young athletes.
Over the years, did you get the feeling that Triathlon Canada was depending too much on you?
I’m not really interested in speculating on that. Triathlon Canada and the ITU gave me such an incredible opportunity to do something I absolutely love. I can’t say enough about Bill Hallett, Barrie Shepley, Loreen Barnet, Les McDonald and all the people at the ITU for everything they did for me, for this incredible opportunity to do something I love. I’m forgetting some names but I have a lot of people to thank.
You put together a project called Triathlon Code. At Trimes.org we almost copied your idea and put together a junior development program called TrimesTeam. We were pretty sad to see the project stop. But the reality is that sponsors don’t want to invest in the next generation, is this one of your mission for the future?
Yes it is. I’m just not entirely sure how to do it. I’m working on a big project right [now] that might change that, we’ll see.
Any advice for the junior athletes?
Don’t be afraid of failing. I have a tattoo on my arm, it’s of « the tallest tree », it’s a message to my wonderful children, « see the world from the top of the tallest trees, » don’t be afraid of failing, of falling. Find joy in working hard, in being committed, in getting the most of yourself. See competition as an opportunity to express yourself, to express all the hard work you’ve done.
I must confess: I’m into triathlon because of you. I was in front of my TV during your race in Beijing and it has always been an objective for Trimes.org to do an interview with you, so that’s it!
Thanks man, I really appreciate your questions, your candor, the obvious passion you have for our sport. Let’s connect for a beer when I’m next in your neck of the woods, oh and a ride and a run.