By Masa Takaya on 03/02/11 at 5:30 pm
They’re fit, fast and they’ve all got youth on their side. In this series we profile some of ITU’s rising stars - a generation of talent set to challenge the established names on the international scene. This week’s Young Gun: Paula Findlay of Canada.
Last April as the dawn broke over Sydney harbour and a new Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Series opened, few fans could have picked out Barbara Riveros Diaz as the athletes lined the start pontoon. But two hours and four minutes later, she was the hot talk as the Chilean sensation broke onto the scene. Even fewer could have imagined what would lie in store for another young athlete who at that point wasn’t even selected by her National Federation for the early season Series races. By the end of 2010 however, Paula Findlay’s season firmly put her on the world stage as a potential medallist in London in 2012.
Triathlon Canada’s decision to ensure Findlay was in prime condition before taking to the World Championship Series circuit proved to be the right one. After Findlay cruised to her first World Cup victory in Monterrey, Mexico, she backed it up with an impressive fourth place at the 2010 Hy-Vee ITU Triathlon Elite Cup, which boasted a field as strong as most World Championship Series races. By this time she was ready to make her first appearance of 2010 in the World Championship Series in London, she did in style. Paula Findlay, the 21-year old from Edmonton, Alberta forced the world take notice as she left the experienced trio of Spirig, Jenkins and Hewitt in her wake to take gold.
As impressive as this was, three weeks later she signalled the victory was no fluke by becoming the only woman to win back-to-back races in the 2010 Series. Against the stunning backdrop of the Austrian town of Kitzbühel, Findlay again broke away in the last 800m to claim the top podium spot and firmly establish herself as a force to be reckoned with at the highest level. Topping off the season with fifth place at the Grand Final in Budapest, she moved up to fifth place in the overall rankings and marked a fantastic 2010 season. She also claimed the best runner segment rankings and a handsome bonus.
The transition from a junior to elite athlete can be a tricky one with many athletes failing to make the jump to the elite level. Surprisingly, Findlay slipped under the radar at the junior level with a modest scorecard of 13th, 6th and 9th at the 2006, 2007 and 2008 ITU Triathlon World Championships respectively. The 2009 season was solid for Findlay, who despite a stress fracture hampering her season, claimed a bronze at the ITU Triathlon Under23 World Championships and had two top-20 finishes in Hamburg and Kitzbühel. However, none of these results could have predicted what was to come in 2010. Findlay herself admitted she was surprised by her results on speaking of her 2010 season.
“It’s kind of indescribable – I went into the season not really certain of my goals because I was injured last season (2009) and I’ve been building from a junior to a senior, and new to the World Cup and racing these international athletes. So I just wanted to get used to that, maybe top-15 finishes in the World Championship Series races.”
Concentrating firmly on qualification for the Olympic Games, Findlay has put the winter semester of her medical degree on hold for now. This break has allowed her to train in warmer climates than her native Edmonton, and thus improve her weakest discipline – the bike - which she has admitted in the past needs improvement. Working with the Canadian team between their training camp in Maui and their base in Victoria this year, allows much more time for Findlay to focus on her bike handling and transition skills which will be firmly tested in 2011. Findlay can be sure her fellow athletes will be looking to expose any potential weaknesses in their quest for the World Championship crown.
Perhaps worrying for her competitors is Findlay still feels she has some way to improve. “I don’t think I’m at my fastest, just because I only really have one season of training behind me because I was injured the season before. I feel I can improve on it.”
While Findlay has openly admitted she finds media attention before the races stressful, she also says she enjoys the attention post-race. However, success always comes with a price and if her results continue, then there will be no shortage of media attention for the young Canadian during the 2011 season.