MacKinnon: Triathlon Canada under new direction entering post-Whitfield era
Edmonton hosts ITU world Grand Final from Aug. 26-Sept. 1 in and around Hawrelak Park
Paula Findlay stops to talk to Canadian team doctor Steve Keeler during the run portion of triathlon competition at the 2012 Olympic Games in London on Aug. 4, 2012. An injured Findlay resumed the race after the stop.
Photograph by: Frank Gunn, THE CANADIAN PRESS
EDMONTON - The dead of winter might seem an odd time to begin promoting the International Triathlon Union’s 2014 World Triathlon Grand Final, but this tri-sport bunch has long swum, cycled and run to a different drummer.
The Grand Final, culminating the eight-city World Triathlon Series of elite competitions, will be held in and around Hawrelak Park from Aug. 26 to Sept. 1.
Organizers plan to showcase Edmonton, its river valley and other landmarks to the world by way of an expected TV audience of 45 million people in 160 countries. It’s not for nothing the slogan is the Rally in the Valley.
ITU president Marisol Casado of Madrid, Spain, brought the sport federation’s board to Edmonton for off-season meetings this weekend. She lauded the city at a Friday news conference at City Hall, noting Edmonton’s strong performance record at staging major international events, including several ITU World Cup competitions, notably the highly successful 2001 world championships.
But if the Grand Final is the pinnacle of a single season, the 2014 season represents a fresh start for Triathlon Canada, starting at the very top.
Alan Trivett, Triathlon Canada’s CEO since March 2005, was dismissed in November, with a search well underway to hire his replacement. A new chief executive is expected to be in place early in 2014.
Trivett presided over two Olympic cycles for Canada. At Beijing in 2008, superstar Simon Whitfield won a surprising and dramatic silver medal to go with the gold he won in Sydney in 2000. The sport of triathlon’s first Olympic gold medallist, Whitfield was Canada’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremony at London 2012.
But at those Games, things ended catastrophically for Whitfield, who crashed metres into the cycling leg of the race, and for Edmonton’s gifted Paula Findlay, a five-time WTS winner, who finished a tearful last.
On Trivett’s watch, in the 14-month period leading up to London, a cascading series of poor decisions were made at several levels about how to manage a nagging hip injury Findlay suffered in June 2011, with devastating results.
There is no sense Trivett has directly paid for that saga with his job. Rather, Triathlon Canada is framing this as the onset of a new era for their sport, which is sensible for many reasons.
Following the 2012 Olympics, Trivett hired the highly regarded Libby Burrell to be the federation’s high performance director, a strong move.
Last month, Burrell hired Jamie Turner, long a successful triathlon coach in Australia, to be Canada’s national team head coach. That post had not been filled regularly since Joel Filliol moved on from the job after the Beijing Olympics.
Last August, the sport federation installed a new board president, Luc Landriault of St-Sauveur, Que. And in October, Whitfield officially retired from the sport he helped put on the map worldwide to head up the Fantan Group’s sports entertainment division in Victoria.
Whitfield had been Triathlon Canada’s meal ticket through four Olympics, but as younger male and female athletes emerge, it makes sense to have a new management group in place, people with fresh ideas, renewed energy and a plan designed for a deeper team of athletes, not just one superstar.
Oakville, Ont.’s Kyle Jones is Whitfield’s heir apparent on the men’s side, having posted a cluster of top-10 performances internationally. Matt Sharpe of Victoria and Andrew Yorke of Caledon, Ont., also are beginning to carve out niches for themselves.
But, at this juncture, Canada’s talent pool is deeper on the female side.
Last June, Amelie Kretz of Blainville, Que., Ellen Pennock, of Calgary, Kirsten Sweetland of Victoria and Joanna Brown of Carp, Ont., fashioned a 1-2-3-4 Canadian sweep at the World Cup sprint distance race in Edmonton. Kretz is 20 year old, Brown and Pennock just 21. Sweetland, her career disrupted by injuries in recent years, is 25.
Sara Ann Brault of Winnipeg, is 24 and also has emerged as a strong international competitor.
The hope remains that Findlay, just 24, studying at the University of Alberta and still training, will regain her world-class form in 2014, as well. We shall see, as Whitfield might say.
The qualifying period for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, begins next June, so next season is significant for the sport beyond bringing its showpiece, year-end competitions to Edmonton.
About 4,000 athletes are expected to compete here late next summer over five days of races, from age-group triathlons to paratriathlon events and even the junior mixed relay world championship.
That race week will mark the end of the first competitive season for Canada’s best under the team of Burrell, Turner and whoever is hired as Triathlon Canada’s next chief executive.
The results will say much about Canada’s chances of extending Whitfield’s legacy of excellence to Rio in 2016.
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Editor's note: Owing to an editing error, Marisol Casado was mistakenly identified as a "he" in an earlier version of this article. The story has been corrected.
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