The organisation has recruited an enhanced Canadian-made coaching and support team that brings more than 50 years of experience competing and coaching at an elite level. Kurt Innes, of Kelowna, B.C., who was an Olympic cyclist in 1992 and graduate of the National Coaching Institute after receiving his level IV certification in cycling and speedskating, will take on the role of leading the team of coaches as Triathlon Canada’s high-performance director. Innes, who is also a two-time Olympic coach in cycling, was the director of high-performance sport at the Olympic Oval in Calgary in 2005-06, and the lead in performance planning at the Canadian Sport Centre Pacific over the last four years.
Earlier this spring, Triathlon Canada promoted Philippe Bertrand, who was an assistant coach for Canada’s 2008 Olympic team, to head coach of the Senior National Team. Bertrand will be joined on the coaching staff by Olympic triathlete, Sharon Donnelly, who will guide Canada’s next generation of Olympians as the organization’s National Junior/Under-23 coach.
Triathlon Canada also named a young and dynamic group of Olympic and World Cup medal-winning athletes that are committed to the four-year journey to the podium at the 2012 Games in London, England.
Two-time Olympic medallist, Simon Whitfield, will headline the 2009 Team Teck national senior squad. The three-time Olympian from Victoria has 11 World Cup victories, a Commonwealth Games title, 20 podium finishes and six top-10 finishes at the World Championships to the national team.
Joining Whitfield on the men’s team will be Olympic teammate, Paul Tichelaar of Edmonton; Kyle Jones, of Oakville, Ont., and Victoria’s Brent McMahon, who recently cracked the top-20 in the second leg of the World Championship Triathlon Series in Madrid Spain.
Kathy Tremblay, of Montreal, and Vancouver’s Lauren Groves will lead a trio of Canadian women on the World Cup and World Championship Series circuit for Canada this year. The two Canadian Olympians will be joined by rising star in the sport of triathlon, Kirsten Sweetland, of Victoria. The three Canadian women have been swarming the World Cup and World Championship Series podium this year.
ITU spoke to High Performance Coach, Kurt Innes to find out his philosophies and plans for the road to London.
How do you feel today’s launch of Team Teck went, and the announcement of your next quadrennial?
Fantastic, today was great! The acknowledgement of the world class system by a world class company is excellent and the ability from our end to have this ongoing commitment from a corporate sponsor, alongside our government support, is huge. Not many sports in Canada have that luxury, so to have it is fantastic.
Do you feel on the back of Beijing that there is an ever-mounting pressure to keep delivering medals?
I don’t look at it as pressure, it’s a welcome expectation. I believe that if we really want to get after high performance then it becomes a common culture that everyone understands. I embrace it and I think it should be acknowledged, and it’s my responsibility to facilitate that culture in the team and the support staff. Why would you expect anything but? When you become part of this national team you expect nothing but to win races, that’s what it’s all about.
And the selection of the seven athletes for Team Tech, is this centred around the high performance in Victoria instead of across the country?
No, the seven athletes have met our strict criteria, and we’ve got one athlete from Montreal and one from Edmonton, but the majority are based in Victoria and that’s where our staff are centralised, although our athletes have the flexibility to choose what suits their needs. We don’t follow a centralised programme, but it just so happens that that’s where the bulk of our athletes happen to live.
And regionally are their development opportunities across Canada in the other territories?
We’ve got one in Quebec, in the central part of the country in Winnipeg and a regional one here in Vancouver, and then our national centre in Victoria. So we’re trying to cover the densest population spots and so naturally the next place is Ontario.
It must be hard to develop a programme for a country as large and spread out as Canada?
For sure, and we must also be respectful of not just the geographic limitations, but also the cultural differences. Quebec is very very strong, but so is the Maritime region and so is Ontario, and it’s important to acknowledge that and try and keep the cultural possibilities open as well, but not at the expense of high performance. So if an athlete like Kathy Tremblay, who truly does have a world class environment, wants to live in Montreal we will acknowledge that and support it.
What are your performance indicators going to be between now and London 2012?
The new Dextro Energy Triathlon – ITU World Championship Series is our new goal and especially the Grand Final. With us not involved in the Commonwealth Games it removes one possibility for success, and so for us the Pan American Championships will be big, but annually now going forward it’s the Grand Final with some World Championship Series events as well. We’ve been selective in meeting our needs from what we want to achieve from a national team perspective, and where we think we can make the most impact. We don’t have an endless amount of money so we have to be ruthless in selection.
What about the introduction of the new ITU World Team Championships? Is that something exciting to work on?
Absolutely, it’s a great rallying tool for us, and gives us another opportunity to do well in Des Moines. We were already planning to go there as a team and this is an extra opportunity to race our development team as well. The senior team were always going to be involved, but now there’s an opportunity for the younger guys to race alongside Simon [Whitfield] and Lauren [Groves] and see how they stack up against the best athletes in the world; and it’s a great chance for us.
We’re going in to win the event, but I say that very diplomatically. Ultimately we’re going to do our best to secure a medal, but strategy wise we’re going there to win the damn thing. Of course anytime we toe the start line Triathlon Canada is there to win, but there’s no external pressure. The athletes are going there to race well following the Washington World Champs race, which is priority one, then the Des Moines Elite Cup which is priority two and then the team relay is priority three for us, so if we can manage that ten day period well, then I would assume that there would be no reason why we couldn’t perform well.
Have you named an ‘A’ Team? Do you know who they will be?
No, we’ll wait until after Washington and see how the guys feel in their legs. These guys are a mature group of individuals and although the selection of the team is ultimately my decision based on performances up until a certain time, they are highly intuitive and they can sense it within themselves as to who’s feeling the best.
Heading towards London in the World Championship Series, are you taking a large team there to scope out the venue for 2012?
No, we were strategic in that it doesn’t fit our goals for this year based on the World Champs Grand Final on the Gold Coast; and for us in Canada it doesn’t sit very well from a planning perspective. We’re going to have select athletes who will participate and I will be going to do a site visit, but the whole team isn’t going. We’ve got our own national championships in August that we’ll prepare for and have a nice holding camp beforehand, so the World Champs race in Yokohama isn’t really part of our plan either.
Does having an Olympic Games in London suit you with the similar climate?
Yeah, we’re lucky in that we can take a direct flight from Vancouver into London, but we’re going to have to be very clued up as to where we stay in the build up to the Games, but right now we’re wanting to get back to business as usual and focus on this year. It’s strange how things change. When I was involved at the Olympic Games in 1992 we didn’t think six weeks in advance, and that was best practice then, and now it’s best practice and common sense to prepare early some four years out.
Talking about best practice, for Beijing it was deemed that having a domestique for Simon Whitfield would work out as the best option on the day, and now it’s almost become a part of the racing this year with the Russians in particular utilising that very strongly. Do you feel that you’ve changed the aspect of ITU racing?
Well any time you’re on the front end of something you either become best practice or you don’t, so we’re trying to maintain our advantage. I think it’s going to become commonplace now where the cycling model is embraced; and I mean not just talked about but actually implemented. Teams are going to be disciplined in their approach and that’s what it’s going to come down to. First of all you’ve got to have the athletes, and at least one athlete who can complete the mission, and once that is secured then we can talk about the team. For sure we’re aware of what’s going on around us and kudos to the other countries for actually trying it as well. We’re actually learning along the way just like they are.