Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Go, go, go, go, Simon!

"Let's go Simon!" Canada collectively yelled at their TVs that day in 2008, when Simon Whitfield threw down his hat on a Beijing course, and ran one of the most exhilarating races I've ever seen. Ever. Really.

If you don't remember screaming your lungs out, just listen to this woman in the video below who caught the finish live. It wasn't just her. We were all screaming "Run Simon!" From fourth, he ran his heart out to first through the final turn, and grabbed a silver out of nowhere.

Official IOC video. (Boo, they don't allow embedding)

That race, well that was epic. And the runner in me loved every second of it. And today, as Simon announced his retirement, it's worth marking a remarkable career.

Simon is not a marathoner, but he is a runner, and an endurance athlete. I once read on his blog the summation of what training and racing meant. It's one of the most important lessons I've learned about road racing:

From my post last year about Paula Findlay, I wrote:
It was fellow Canadian triathlete Simon Whitfield who for me succinctly summed up what race day meant for his sport -- or any sport where preparation is the key. A few weeks after he ran that thrilling silver medal win in Beijing in 2008, he wrote:

"I felt like all I had to do was express my fitness, I wasn't hoping for miracles, simply expressing fitness earned through hard work," he wrote on a blog at the time.

Anyways, I thought it's worth saying that for triathletes especially, but also runners, that Simon was a class of the field and one of my favourite Canadian runners.

From the archives, my post from 2008, titled "Hero"


Simon Whitfield tops awesome, if there was a word to top that. I've been following his blog since 2006 and over that time, you get a picture of a down-to-earth, hard working and impressive athlete with a sense of humour and humility. He won gold for Canada - in surprising fashion -- eight years ago in Sydney. He didn't medal in Athens and apologized to the nation. But what most didn't realize in between 2000 Olympics and now is that he had built an amazing resume with tonnes of wins. He's the real deal, a legend of the sport, not a flash in the pan.

I'm not a triathlete. I can't even imagine adding two sports to my one (running). But I do identify with the pain they must feel pounding the pavement after swimming and cycling at the paces and the heat. In the Olympics earlier today (last night) I was so happy that CBC was playing most of the race. The run was just fantastic. So many times, Simon seemed to be dropping back from the lead pack but he reeled them in again. Then with a kilometre to go, he seemed too far back that the three ahead of him would escape with the three medals. He was out of the picture frame. Then he took off his hat, and started to work. Amazingly, he clawed back and the four of them were running for their lives in the last 600 metres or so. R. and I were yelling at the TV set. He took the lead, turned the corner and held it only for a bit longer, but finished strongly, and happily, in second place.


From Bruce Arthur, sports columnist for my newspaper:

But in his mind, Whitfield kept repeating one thing: Sing like Kreek.

Few athletes endure what triathletes suffer -- more than anything, triathlon is about eating barrelfuls of pain. And Whitfield began to close. Whitfield ate the pain, and spat it out. And in his mind, he kept repeating, sing like Kreek.

"I didn't think he was coming back," said his coach, Joel Filliol. "Normally that doesn't happen -- when you get dropped, that's it."

Except that in the final 200 metres in the shadow of the magnificent Mings Tomb Reservoir northwest of Beijing, Whitfield kicked as he had on that magic-filled day in Sydney, and took the lead. Thanks to a supreme act of will, everything was in front of him. It was all possible. And he kept saying it: Sing like Kreek. Sing like Kreek. In the stands, triathlon officials and his coach were screaming those words, too. Sing like Kreek! Sing like Kreek!

The rest here.

Kreek, by the way, is Adam Kreek, one of the men's eight rowers who won the gold a few days ago. He belted out our national anthem as the flag was raising.

Video: CBC's on demand page is here (you can search Triathalon or Men's eights


macnic said...

I had the supreme pleasure to attend a closed talk with Whitfield and then closed group run with him while I was at the bank. The guy is just as you say, down to earth and really funny. I was hoping he'd continue along the Ironman path, but I think he's going to make a difference with our amateur athletes which is even better.

Great article, Kenny.

The Unexpected Runner said...

What an amazing career Simon has had. Canada has been privileged to have such an athlete represent her. I hope retirement sees him bring his impressive skill to the coaching arena for the next generation of triathletes.