Revisiting Sydney 2000 With Olympic Champion Simon Whitfield
His Relentless Pursuit of Success
Ten years ago today, Sydney played host to the Opening Ceremony for what was deemed the “Millennium Games.” A total of 199 nations sent 10,650 athletes to compete in Australia, where Canada won 14 medals and reeled off many highlights.
Wrestler Daniel Igali was Olympic champion in the 69 kg freestyle. Daniel Nestor and Sébastien Lareau captured Canada’s first-ever gold medal in tennis. Diver Anne Montminy was a double medallist, winning silver in 10-metre synchro (with Emilie Heymans) and bronze in 10 metres. Trampoline gymnast Karen Cockburn won the first of what would be three straight Olympic medals. The men’s basketball team surprised the world in upsetting world champion Yugoslavia to win their pool.
The first medal for Canada in Sydney launched one athlete into a spotlight he has not stepped from since. It was gold. It was triathlon. Olympic.ca spoke to Simon Whitfield about that first Olympic Games and what it did for him.
What was your gut feeling heading into Sydney? Nervous? Excited? Confident?
I was super excited, all those dreams as a kid of racing in the Olympics, hearing the national anthem, wearing the parade uniform, representing Canada. I went to school in Sydney, graduated on the steps of the Opera House, five feet from where the finish line was six years later. I was nervous, confident, excited and ready to race.
What was your state of mind for the first-ever Olympic triathlon?
Just a perfect state of mind. I was relaxed and excited, smiling and taking it all in yet ready to perform. I wasn’t overwhelmed because I was just a kid having fun with no expectations other then the goals I had for myself.
At what point did it dawn on you that you could win Olympic gold?
When I passed (German Stephan) Vukovich at the entrance to the Opera House. He had played his cards, I was able to respond and when I ran past him his shoulders sank and he slowed right down. I put my hand up and it was over. I was about to be Olympic champion.
What may that Olympic gold have meant to triathlon in Canada?
I hope it inspired people to challenge themselves, to get outside and work out, to set a goal and chase after it. I hope it gave some kid goose bumps and he or she quietly said to themselves that one day they would go to the Olympics and represent Canada.
Describe the journey from winning gold in 2000 to winning silver in 2008.
It was an interesting, challenging and very rewarding experience. I went from relative obscurity to having a beer with the Prime Minister and lunch with the Queen of England. I ran around in my swim suit for a living and there I was on a cereal box and my own canister of vitamins. It was surreal, it was demanding and hard at times. People expected me to be and act a certain way, I couldn’t always live up to those expectations and found myself feeling like I was letting people down. At 25 it was a big challenge and all the while what I really wanted to do was race, and train, and compete without all the complications. In relative terms I failed in Athens 2004. (He finished 11th.) I learned from it and managed to do the best I could in 2008, with a wonderful partner and my first daughter to balance me and keep me grounded when the distractions and pressure came.
What do you think about when you think of London 2012?
Getting my medal back! No, seriously, preparation and process, that’s all I think about now. The process, the relentless pursuit of the process.