PROFILE-Olympics-Canada's Whitfield finds speed in snail tactics

Reuters

Wed, 27 Jun 18:59:00 2012

Training at a snail's pace may not sound like the formula for winning Olympic gold in London, but seasoned Canadian triathlete Simon Whitfield credits that method for keeping him in top form.

For Whitfield, who competes in one of the most gruelling Olympic events, even less intense training days still require up to five hours of work.

"Some days I just get out the door. We've started calling them snail days where you just get out the door and it doesn't matter how slow you go," Whitfield told Reuters.

"It's all done slowly and that's considered a recovery day. I find I fall out of rhythm if i take a complete day off ... for me it's basically the philosophy of doing as much training as I can handle and we plug in the intensity as we can."

Whitfield, who won the inugural Olympic triathlon event at Sydney in 2000, placed 11th at the 2004 Summer Games but returned to the podium in 2008 when he picked up a silver medal in Beijing.

In an average week, the 37-year-old Canadian swims five to six times, rides five times and runs up to seven hours with no days off to prepare for an event that comprises a 1.5-kilometre swim, a 40k cycle leg and concludes with a 10km run.

Keeping motivated through the years has never been an issue for Whitfield, but the married father of two young girls admits to using whatever trick is in the book to get his fatigued body out the door even when it is screaming for a day off.

His latest method of trickery involves an audio version of "11/22/63", Stephen King's latest best-seller about a time traveler who attempts to prevent the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

"Tonight's run will be my third workout of the day and I am sure at six o'clock at night I am not really going to want to go for an hour run," said Whitfield. "But I am going to see it as an opportunity to listen to Stephen King's book ... and I'll trick myself out the door tonight.

"It's not a matter of not wanting to do the run, we run every day basically so it's just a way to get that run done and mindlessly trot out the door."

'DIVINE EXPERIENCE'

While few would rule out Whitfield's chance at making the podium at the July 27-Aug. 12 Games given his past success, he is not considered a gold medal favourite, a billing that has been bestowed on Spain's Javier Gomez.

But for Whitfield, who has been both a favourite and an underdog during his career, the expectations placed on him by others has never impacted how he approaches his training.

"It's a very interesting and divine experience to be the favourite, I live up to that and to be under that pressure," said Whitfield.

"But it's a different experience to having not a lot of pressure. To be honest I don't care either way, it doesn't really affect how I prepare."

Whitfield's career has given him several pinch-me moments, among them lunches with New Zealand's Sir Edmund Hillary, who along with his guide was the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953, and Queen Elizabeth II, a "surreal" moment where he said she approved of how he tied his tie.

But one of the latest perks of being a successful athlete was having a stop on London's tube map named after him as part of the Olympic Legends Map.

"That was certainly one of those moments that I kind of stopped and said 'wow, what just happened, are you kidding me?'" said Whitfield.

"Especially because I hadn't heard anything about it until it came out in the papers so I was taken aback by that."

Unlike his previous Olympic appearances, Whitfield has some extra motivation going into London having watched Canada win 14 gold medals at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Whitfield, whose career includes 14 World Cup victories and 12 Canadian national championships, feels the London Games will be his last Olympics, but followed that by saying that is how he approached all his previous Games appearances.

"Whenever you pour everything into something, if you are doing it right then it feels so daunting - the idea of doing it beyond the day you are required - even for the young guys I am sure they think this might be their last (Olympics) because they are putting so much into it," said Whitfield.

"That's the right frame of mind. If you are thinking 'well I've got another one after it,' then you are probably not putting as much into it as you should."

 

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