Monday, July 23, 2012

Simon Says: The Medals, London and The Legacy

Simon Whitfield at the Toronto Triathlon Festival. Photo by Bob Hatcher -

I was living in Vancouver, BC back in 2000. A small group of the Vancouver triathlon community gathered to watch the inaugural Olympic Games Triathlon in Sydney at a well known downtown pub.

Going into the Games, Vancouver's Carol Montgomery had been on fire on the World Cup circuit. Indeed, prior to even getting to the games Carol had accomplished an unprecedented feat in modern Olympic sport, which I don't think has been duplicated - she had qualified in one Games for two different sports. Triathlon obviously, but she had also qualified in Athletics in the 10,000m on the track for Canada as well, and was set to race in the 10,000m final for women on the track later in the games after the triathlon.

We settled into watch history in the making and fingers crossed - witness a win or at the very least, a medal for Carol and Canada. Alas, it was not to be as Carol crashed on the bike, broke her wrist, and was unable to go on. It also took her out of the 10,000m race on the track. We all left the pub a bit disappointed that night.

The next day was the men's triathlon.  For this race I found myself watching on TV with my three year old son, Matthew in the basement of our house, alone other than the two of us. We all know the outcome to this - Simon Whitfield raced to a gold medal, and into, not just triathlon history but into the history of sports in Canada in a big way!

When I realized that Simon had won, the tears started to pour out of me in a completely uncontrolled manner. My son, sitting on my lap, asked, "Dad, why are you crying"? I said, "Simon just won the Olympic games triathlon and the Gold Medal", as I sat there on the couch over-come with emotion. I am not sure if Matthew understood the massive significance of this.

In Canada, this was not just sports news, it was front-page-of-paper, lead-story-on-the-TV-news, news! In fact, a few days later, I was asked on as a guest on the CBC TV Morning News show, to comment on the significance of Simon's Gold Medal win and what it would mean for Canada and for the sport of triathlon.

In a way, we (the sport of triathlon in Canada) were not really ready for it - suddenly all eyes were on Simon and the sport of triathlon. This level of attention and exposure for the sport was completely unknown. But on the whole - looking back, it was the best thing that could have ever happened.

A lot has happened in the ensuing 12 years. Simon, "The Kid", who won in Sydney is now nearer to 40. He won another medal, Silver, in perhaps in even a more stirring and dramatic fashion, four years ago at the Beijing, Olympic Games. The sport of triathlon in Canada has grown up a lot and matured in Canada and elsewhere. We now have a history, and knowing Simon well, one of the things he is most proud of, is a legacy that is starting to build in Canada, because of his success - people take the sport seriously, and some of the current top talent in the country, in particular Multiple World Cup winner, Paula Findlay and a fellow London Olympic Triathlon team member, are a direct result of that legacy.

The ultimate symbol of this, occurred a few weeks ago when Simon was named the Flag Bearer for the Canadian team at the London Olympic Games opening ceremony. Wins and medals aside, there is really no greater honor than to be recognized by your fellow sportsmen and your country. No doubt a proud moment for Simon, and his family, but also for the whole sport of triathlon as well!

This is important stuff - this winning, these performances, the medals, the exposure, the legacy, the pride. I was a guest speaker at the Timex Triathlon Team launch back in February this year. In my remarks at the team dinner and awards, I said, that I really hoped that the United States, could win a  Gold Medal in triathlon at the Olympic Games - maybe even in London ( with apologies to Simon!). It would not only be a big shot in the arm for triathlon, and International Triathlon Union style racing in the United States, but for the whole sport, and business of triathlon - with much of the latter, on the product side, centered in the United States.

Something has not changed since Sydney - that glint you see in Simon Whitfield's eye. It's that slightly mischievous and comedic, look people have when they have something up their sleeve - that he knows something big and important is about to happen. Yet, he's still joking and jovial as ever! That's Simon. I think it's his secret weapon - as it's the polar opposite to the deer-in-the-head-light look of most other athletes at this level prior to the Big Race. I saw that look on Simon, yesterday at the Toronto Triathlon Festival, standing with him on the dock just before the start of the demonstration event that he was doing with Paula Findlay, Andrew Yorke and Mike Greenberg. That means he's ready!

I say watch out, London and make sure that you tune into the  Men's Olympic Triathlon coverage on August, 7th (6:30am Eastern Day Light Saving Time) to watch the final chapter. I know that I will be!

What are your thoughts on the men's Olympic Games Triathlon and what the results will mean?

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Monday, July 16, 2012

A Rich Time For Endurance Sports Events

We live in a particularly rich time for endurance sports events - of all kinds. Running, cycling, swimming, triathlons, and now obstacle and adventure races - there has never been a better time to be an active participant and endurance sports athlete.

Go back an athletic generation, say about 15 - 20 years ago and, the pickings nor the selection was anywhere near as rich. Over the last two decades numbers of participants across the board in all of these endurance sports events has grown in a big way. In some cases explosively - in the case of the so called "dirty events", or obstacle races such as  The Spartan Race, The Warrior Dash, Muddy Buddy and others. These events barely existed a few years ago and now, attract, 4,000 - 7,000 people for a first year event! The Spartan race is expecting over a million participants world wide next year, and the Warrior Dash, bills it self as "the largest running series in the world"!

It's not uncommon now for marathon running races to have over 20,000 runners. Indeed, the really high profile marathons such as the Boston Marathon and the New York City Marathon, have over 25,000 and 30,000 respectively. The Vancouver Sun Run 10K get's 45,000 entrants every year! However in terms of year over year growth, the really big growth is in the 1/2 Marathon races! Then there are the Color Runs, which, are a bit hard to describe, but none-the-less, growing immensely in popularity in a very short period of time. Indeed,  niche seems to be key in running, with women's only runs, dress-up runs, and even running events for you and your dog, such as the Walk Run Wag series! The latter is geared towards fit runners who own fit dogs, but also less fit dog owners who's dogs are perhaps not as active as they should be!

Even within a sport such as cycling, the diversity of options is impressive with events for everyone and different disciplines. Traditional road racing, such as what is seen in the Pro Tour and  events like the Tour de France, are growing at the amateur and licensed category level, but the growth of more mass participation events, in the past called sportifs and now referred to as gran fondos is really growing. Some of these such as the Centurion Cycling series (see picture at top), founded by North American triathlon and Ironman pioneer Graham Fraser, try to give the racer and the rider, a similar experience to racing in a Pro Tour cycling event! "Racers race and riders, ride", is the motto for Centurion.

In the off-road cycling world, again more diversity - Traditional mountain bike racing, has  gone a bit under-ground and now gaining popularity are off-road trail races, with less technical terrain, like the new Fire Road Cycling events - gran fondos, or "Dirt Fondos" for the off-road crowd. The grand-daddy of this genre being the annual Leadville 100 -  a100 mile Mountain Bike race which is run entirely above 10,000 ft of elevation and is one of the hardest off-road races to get into!

Triathlon, the sport that really kicked off the endurance sports diversity trend many years ago, continues to grow - with Ironman triathlons still selling out a year ahead of time. One wonders where it will all start to plateau, but the numbers still seem to be growing in triathlon - even with a small cohort of veteran triathletes leaving the sport, at one end for one of the above activities, they are quickly replaced, by many newbies coming in at the front end of the sport of triathlon. There are even races specifically geared to the new triathlete such as the Multisport Canada Triathlon Series events, with their aptly named "Give-It-A-Tri" races for the newbie to get a taste of swim/bike/run.

No surprise, there has been a small cottage industry of Event Services companies that have sprung up supplying a variety of services to all of these wide ranging events. Timing & results companies, online registration companies, race photography and videography companies, race (bib) number printing companies - all supplying various needs for these many endurance sports events. It's a thriving industry and business, with an interesting range of vendors and suppliers from small to large!

That being said, and the richness of the endurance sports event selection out there, what sorts of events are you into? Has what interests you changed recently? What's next for you?

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