By Peter Holmes on 26/11/09 at 12:00 am
If you can’t beat them, join them. That seems to be the motivation for Canada’s Simon Whitfield this off-season as the double Olympic medallist looks to get back on terms with Alistair Brownlee who dominated the 2009 triathlon season, beating Whitfield in every encounter.
Brownlee is based in Yorkshire and is a keen advocate of cross country and fell running, which involves racing in spiked shoes over tough undulating and muddy terrain. Having claimed the English Schools title as a youngster, following his 2006 world junior triathlon title Brownlee jetted off to Turkey to compete in the world mountain running championships.
As reported in Canada’s Globe and Mail Whitfield has decided to boost his chances of winning a medal at the 2012 London Olympics by competing in this weekend’s Canadian Cross Country Championships at Guelph, Ontario.
The 34-year-old doesn’t expect to challenge for the Canadian title but is looking for competitions in which he can upgrade his abilities in each of the three phases of the sport: swimming, cycling and running.
“I don’t get to race cross country enough and when I do I always remember just how much fun it is,” Whitfield said Thursday in an Athletics Canada statement that revealed his entry in the race. “I have realistic expectations racing nationals, especially with where it fits into the season. I’d be flattered if people thought I could compete with [Canada’s top runner] Simon Bairu but he is simply too fast for this old triathlete.”
Barrie Shepley, ITU’s race commentator and Canada’s former national and Olympic coach for triathlon, said Whitfield, the winner of the inaugural Olympic triathlon in 2000 at Sydney, had won events easily in 2001 and 2002, but then recognised he needed to rework his training after a mediocre 2003 and 2004. “One part of him got complacent,” Shepley said. “About 2005, he realised it was a ticking clock. He didn’t have a 30-year career.”
After 2004, Whitfield focused on swimming for the next quadrennial, Shepley said. “He identified the weakness and worked on the weakness. To win at triathlon, all three components needed to be executed at world-class levels if he wants to stick with athletes of a new generation like Brownlee and Javier Gomez,” Shepley said.
“In the past year Whitfield won the sport’s riches race, the $200,000 Hy-Vee ITU Triathlon Elite Cup event, but he’s been picking and choosing events and he knew he had to take the run up a notch,” said Shepley. “It will take under 30 minutes for the 10km run to win in London. He knew he could be there fighting it out for the podium… it’s not bravado that he might be there… it’s not an old guy showing up in the field to get a tee shirt.”
Shepley commented that Brownlee’s running ability is such that he could rank in the top-five British runners at 10,000 metres. “Now Simon has to start to whittle away at his mantle.”
In preparation for the Canadian Cross Country Championships, and to help further improve his running, Whitfield headed south to the United States and Oregon University where he met up with famed athletics coach and marathoner Alberto Salazar. Training with team mate Kyle Jones the two of them worked hard with up and coming American runners, such as Dathan Ritzenhein and Galen Rupp, under the watchful eye of Salazar.
Watch Simon’s video from his training in Oregon: