Jenkins didn't get to witness his training partner's stirring sprint to the tape - he was still a couple of kilometres away, eight minutes behind the best in the world. But by the time he made his way back, he knew the result was a silver, and the huge role he had played in securing Canada's 10th medal of the Beijing Games. As Whitfield's designated domestique, Jenkins's job at these Olympics was to help put the winner of the TRIATHLON gold eight years ago in Sydney back on the podium. It was a cause to which the 25-year-old - a strong swimmer and biker, but lousy runner - dedicated himself to wholeheartedly. In the water, he kept Whitfield on pace over the 1.5-km course, and made sure he didn't get penned in. During the 40-km cycle, he repeatedly chased down the breakaways and let the former Olympic champion draft in his wake. And in the transitions, he made sure that nobody got in Canada's way. "I think it's more important for the country to win a medal than for me to come 20th or 30th," he says. "What does that mean? It means nothing."
On a blistering hot day, and in a particularly fast field, that sacrifice may well have made the difference. Spain's Javier Gomez, the world champion and gold medal favourite, raced alone and wilted in the final 800 m, finishing fourth. Whitfield, now 33, found the energy to twice claw his way back into the lead group over the last laps, and then launch an all-out sprint that left only him and Jan Frodeno of Germany vying for the gold. "I rolled up behind [the leaders] and said to myself, you just made the biggest mistake of your lives letting me back on here," says Whitfield. "Then I said, 'F--k it, let's go.' I wanted to send the message that if you're going to beat me, it's going to hurt."
Or perhaps it was the momentum that Team Canada has been deriving from a sudden spate of clutch performances. After a dismal first week, medals are now coming from all directions - 13 in four days, surpassing their Athens total - on the water, in the pool, in the gym, on the track, and even on horseback. The sight of the men's eight rowers lustily belting out O Canada on the medal podium was Whitfield's inspiration. "Sing like [Adam] Kreek" is what he wrote in marker on his handlebars. It's what his coaches shouted from the sidelines. What he told himself as he launched that final kick. And what he and Jenkins said to each other on the course, and in their long embrace at the finish line.
Triathlon Canada's decision after the world championships last fall to select Jenkins, ranked 47th, for the Beijing team, and leave 17th-place finisher Brent McMahon of Victoria at home, was a controversial one. No other nation so openly appointed a worker bee to their squad (although Kris Gemmel of New Zealand ended up playing a similar role for his teammate Bevan Docherty, winner of the bronze). Whitfield says it was the right choice. "After the worlds I lost a little sleep over it. I got called arrogant and cocky and all these other things," he says. "But Canadians say they want medals. And we had the courage to put this out there and say that we wanted to win."
For close to a year, Jenkins and Whitfield trained together every day. In the heat at home in Victoria. This past winter, at 7,000 feet, in the snow and cold in Arizona's mountains. The camaraderie they developed was invaluable, says the silver medallist. Now it will be rewarded. Whitfield plans to split the bonus money coming his way, from both the Canadian Olympic Committee and Triathlon Canada, 50-50 with his friend.
Jenkins, who is returning to his university studies this fall, says it really isn't necessary. His gift was a chance to compete at the Olympic Games in front of his parents, siblings, girlfriend, and an aunt and uncle. "It was unbelievable. It was all I could ask for," he says. "Coming around the finish I was so happy. I was pretending that I had won the silver."
Maclean's September 1, 2008
Author JONATHON GATEHOUSE