Paula Findlay will learn someday that you run a race for yourself only, not while bearing the weight of the world.
That's the obvious snap conclusion following the Canadian's physical and emotional struggle on Saturday in the women's triathlon at London 2012, where Findlay, who won World Cup races throughout 2009 and '10, was the last competitor to finish. It's evident that the 23-year-old first-time Olympian, who injured her right hip less than a year before the Games and had her preparation ruined, was not in a good place mentally or physically. Canada's veteran triathlete Simon Whitfield called out Triathlon Canada officials for turning their attention away from the 23-year-old after her injury, referring to it as "total incompetence" on Twitter.
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That might have been in reference to Findlay's former coach, Patrick Kelly. The two reportedly split two months before the Games, when it was evident her right hip injury had not allowed her train fully for London 2012.
Simon Whitfield gutted tweetFindlay, is described as an "extreme personality." That might be why someone takes to triathlon, but it forces one to become even-keel. Once everything unravelled Saturday, she couldn't hold back the emotion when her body started betraying her during the swim leg of the tri, where she was the last to complete the 1,500-metre swim. She stopped at one point and needed encouragement to finish, which she did, mouthing "I'm sorry" through her tears. Her unnecessary apology and explanation for why she carried on are illuminating.
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"I had nothing in my legs — I don't know what happened," the 23-year-old said. "I wanted to pull out after that first lap on the run, but I know I have so many friends that have stayed up all night to watch me race. This is not what I expected but the Olympics are a crazy thing. I'm so sorry to everyone in Canada.
Paula Findlay tweet"I just knew finishing was better than pulling out. I have so many people here to support me. I have had such a great team around me I just wish I could have made them more proud today. I know people expected a lot from me and I'm so sorry it didn't happen today."
It comes off like Findlay felt so much external pressure to deliver in London that she wasn't able to focus and enjoy the process. Eventually, athletes who post winning results at the Olympics learn that the big-ticket events are still just a one-day event, another chance to define themselves. It can end up feeling hollow if someone doesn't enjoy the process or isn't doing it for the right reasons.
Really, though, who does she owe an apology to? Expectations in sports are just judgments made by outsiders who can only know so much about what's affecting a person. There were certainly warnings Findlay was not near peak form. It's a little much to question whether she should have even attempted the Olympic tri — to not go would have been a disastrous setback. There would have been a chance of her feeling like I let everyone down, rather than realizing that succeeding in sports sometimes means not worrying about pleasing other people.
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She touched some hearts by finding the strength to fight through on a terrible day. That might carry her a long way on the road to Rio 2016.
One last thing: four years from now, if Findlay is back for Rio, please do not describe her with the 'road to redemption' catchphrase. Who or what would she be redeeming? Coining that phrase misrepresents what motivates someone to strive to win the Olympic triathlon, which is something the young Paula Findlay will sort out someday.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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