FRIDAY JUNE 23, 2017

On Sunday, Simon Whitfield will be warming up for the London Olympics on the streets and highways of Toronto. And anyone else who wants to test their mettle against the man who’ll be carrying the flag for Canada at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2012 Games can do just that.

All you have to do is register for the main race at the Toronto Triathlon Festival, a race that Whitfield hopes will one day become a signature event on the North American triathlon circuit.

TORO spoke with Whitfield, who won gold at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and silver in Beijing four years ago, about the Toronto race and his Olympic obsession.

You’re not just competing in the Toronto Triathlon but have been involved in organizing it.

I just tried to contribute ideas based on what I’d seen around the world, what I’d seen done poorly and what I’d seen done well. We talk a lot about what makes a great triathlon and are trying to bring that to Toronto. It’s really about the venue and the experience. What people take away that’s unique. Toronto has that opportunity with the ride on the Gardiner and the DVP. We’ll be riding right past the CN Tower and Rogers Centre and Air Canada Centre and that’s a unique experience. There’s not a lot of other races that do that. I’ve done the New York Triathlon and it’s similar because you have that moment in the middle of the race where you realize, “Man, I’m right in the middle of New York City, it’s crazy."

Since Canadians saw you win Olympic gold back in Sydney, triathlon has continued to build momentum.

The sport’s definitely taken off and you’re seeing it on bigger and bigger stages. We race in downtown Tokyo, London, Madrid, Paris, Chicago, New York, L.A. and now Toronto. You’re not going to see a huge event here in Toronto because it is the first year, but I’d like to think that 10 years from now we’ll be saying, look how far this event has come.

You're admittedly 'relentless' but how has your perspective about triathlon and competition changed over the years?

Now I’m old enough that I really understand how fortunate I am. I think that happens later on in your career. It’s incredible what I’ve been able to do. I call it “the job” and it’s something that I love doing. As I got older, I just understood that more and more. I’ve stayed connected to the sport at the grass roots level over the years. As much as I do love racing the big races, I also like the K-Town Triathlon in downtown Kingston and other events. That’s the core of our sport and I love that.

Then, of course, there’s still the Olympics.

Oh yeah, that [laughs]. I’m certainly still consumed by that. It’s my borderline unhealthy obsession and has been for a long time. It’s like a puzzle I like trying to put together and take apart and put together again. The Olympics are the ultimate puzzle of a highly competitive endurance sport and that’s what I love doing.

Has it always been an obsession?

Yeah, too much so. I should have studied for high school but instead, I sat there with a notepad and worked out what the ultimate bike would be and what the ultimate training schedule would be and where I would travel to race. I took a bit of mad scientist approach, obsessing over every detail of how I wanted to be successful in the sport. Now that I have kids, I keep my head up a little bit more. It’s a cliché but having kids has given me perspective. Time at the park and focusing on them is more important – but when I do get time to myself, it’s head down and I’m back to working on that puzzle.

Simon Whitfield celebrates his silver medal in BeijingYou’ve won Olympic gold and silver and yet, it’s still a mystery?

Yeah, I don’t think you can ever solve it. That’s the beauty of it. You just do the best you can at putting it together. For me, it’s all about the process.

I think if you focus only on the outcome, it’s hard to have longevity in any sport. It would be too hard to get past the disappointments.

I went through that and learned the hard way. At the Athens Olympics, I was completely focused on the outcome, on the end result. I totally lost sight of the whole process and came 11th and it was a hugely disappointing result but it was the best thing that ever happened because I learned so much from the experience. I really had to come back and be really focused on the here and now, and not the outcome. That was a huge lesson to learn.

Millions are going to be cheering for you in London. Do you remember your first Olympic heroes?

My sporting heroes were originally from hockey, but when I started watching the Olympics, it was Alex Baumann and Victor Davis and Dave Steen. And now it’s funny, maybe it’s because I have daughters, but my sporting heroes are women: Silken Laumann, Marnie McBean, Clara Hughes, Catriona LeMay Doan. The way they execute, how they prepare and who they are as people, I’ve really come to admire them.

And now for many, you’ve become that Olympic hero.

There are thrilling moments when you meet a kid who’s competing in triathlon and they tell me that I’ve inspired them and they’ll say, “Wow, I was 14 years old when you won in Sydney.”  And I’m thinking, “And I race you now.” But it puts a smile on your face because I remember those moments when I got to meet my heroes, too.

On Sunday or in London, they might be racing against you.

That’s right. As long as nobody beats me, it’s all good.

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