Simon Whitfield entered his first triathlon at 12 at Sharbot Lake, Ontario, the event sponsored by the Kids of Steel program. Whitfield had told his hometown paper, The Whig Standard, that his goal was to win an Olympic gold medal in the triathlon.
Simon WhitfieldSimon Whitfield, triathlete (b at Kingston, Ont 16 May 1975). Simon Whitfield is Canada's first-ever OLYMPIC gold medalist in TRIATHLON.
Simon Whitfield entered his first triathlon at 12 at Sharbot Lake, Ontario, the event sponsored by the Kids of Steel program. Whitfield had told his hometown paper, The Whig Standard, that his goal was to win an Olympic gold medal in the triathlon. It seemed unrealistic at that time, since his casual approach to training made it unlikely. During his late teens, Whitfield's parents noticed that he was becoming lackadaisical about life. They decided to send him to the private Knox Grammar School near Sydney, Australia. Once at school, Whitfield became popular, known as "Simon Yank" or "Happy." Running was his forte and he represented the school several times, winning 30 consecutive races.
At 18, Simon Whitfield met Greg Bennett, then the best-known triathlete in Australia. They decided to train together. Whitfield kept Bennett relaxed while Bennett, a hard and tireless worker, kept Whitfield committed. With school completed, he moved back to Victoria, BC, where he trained in the summer, returning in the winter to Bondi Beach, Australia, where the combination of ocean, hills and sandy beaches year-round were ideal for training. The rigorous, itinerant lifestyle of triathletes had an appeal of its own. He found himself sleeping in airports or train stations and doing odd jobs on a one-day basis, earning enough to make ends meet while devoting all his free time to his passion.
Simon Whitfield continued to improve. He became a member of the Canadian national team in 1996 and was the 1998 and 1999 Canadian champion. There were highs, including a bronze medal at the 1999 PAN AMERICAN GAMES in Winnipeg, and there were also lows. He quit the sport for three months in 1998, wondering if he was indeed putting out his best. Whitfield returned, determined to work harder and smarter. He examined his weaknesses, then expended his efforts where they would do the most good.
As the 2000 Olympics at Sydney approached, he was offered the opportunity to compete for Australia because of his dual citizenship and his growing reputation as a top triathlete. He chose Canada. Craig Bennett, his friend and training partner, who was selected only as an alternate for the Australian team, assisted Whitfield with training on the course that Bennett had already competed on. On race day, most athletes travelled accompanied by their bikes and equipment, preferring to keep them in full view at all times. In keeping with his trusting and laidback nature, Whitfield sent his ahead to the course in a cargo truck. And when the bus arrived at the Athletes' Village pickup site to transport them to their starting spot, Whitfield calmly watched the other competitors rush to board and cram themselves into the standing-room-only vehicle while he nonchalantly waited for the next one.
As good a triathlete as Simon Whitfield was, he was not the favourite for a top-three placing at Sydney. In fact, it was the Australians who were hoping to sweep the medals in this first-time Olympic sport. Whitfield had not won a major race in more than a year. His coach, Barrie Shepley, was hoping for a top-8 finish, which was more optimistic than the top-20 result predicted by the media. The swim portion was first. Prior to it, Whitfield gave his characteristic three claps of his hands. His time for the swim was 17 minutes, 56.59 seconds - 28th place among 52 competitors. Next was the bicycle race. He narrowly averted a disaster. Reacting quickly, he dragged his feet, slowing down to avoid a collision with racers who had tangled up in front of him. Despite the slowdown, he registered a credible 58 minutes, 55.40 seconds. He was now in 25th place. His 10 km of running was a stunning display of grit and effort. Stephen Vuckovic of Germany was in the lead. Whitfield marshalled all his energy and ran the distance in 30 minutes, 53.73 seconds. One after another, he pursued and passed all those ahead of him. He sprinted to the finish line past Vuckovic to win by 13.5 seconds, becoming the first gold-medal winner in the first triathlon competition ever held at an Olympic Games. At the medal presentations, with many of his family members in attendance, a tearful Simon Happy Whitfield watched the Canadian flag being raised slowly. He was later asked to bear the Canadian flag at the closing ceremonies.
Whitfield was favoured to defend his gold medal title at Athens in 2004, but a series of personal setbacks marred his concentration. One month prior to the Olympics, training partner Sean Marlowe sustained life-threatening injuries in a car accident. Weeks later, Simon Whitfield collapsed from an attack of food poisoning and, in the days following, suffered a severe allergic reaction. Nevertheless, he was able to compete and place 11th overall. In 2008 Whitfield competed again, staying with the pack for most of the race until he pulled ahead in the last few hundred metres, ultimately winning the silver medal. Whitfield narrowly missed a medal opportunity at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London when his bicycle crashed at the start of the bicycle portion, putting him in fourth place.
Simon Whitfield continues to be a major presence as a Canadian triathlete, amassing a total of 12 world cup wins in addition to his gold and silver Olympic medals. In 1999 and in 2000 he was named Triathlon Canada Athlete of the Year. In 2001 he became a spokesperson for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.