Triathlon Canada’s new high-performance director looks to heal wounds left from London Olympics

The new high-performance director for Triathlon Canada believes the federation needs "a tweaking" as she takes over an organization scorched by controversy during the London Olympic Games.

"Every single federation out there needs a tweaking after the Olympics,'' Libby Burrell said Tuesday in a telephone interview from her home in Whistler, B.C. "We have to look at ourselves in the mirror.

"In many of the big federations all the pieces of the puzzle are in place. The biggest challenge you have is coordinating them and making them work consistently.''

Burrell, a native of South Africa, brings experience as an athlete, coach and administrator. One of her first tasks will be to heal some of the wounds created over comments made by two-time Olympic medallist Simon Whitfield during the Games.

Whitfield publicly criticized the treatment of an injury suffered by teammate Paula Findlay. Findlay, who at one time was considered an Olympic medal contender, spent months dealing with the injury. Prior to the Games she split with her coach and began training with Whitfield and his coach.

At the Games Findlay finished 52nd and gave a tearful apology. An angry Whitfield went public with his concerns.

"I do think the people who have jumped ship on her should be held accountable,'' said Whitfield, the Canadian flag-bearer at the Game's opening ceremony and gold medallist at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Whitfield's dreams of a third Olympic medal ended when he crashed seconds after getting onto this bike during the men's race.

Burrell didn't want to comment on how she might have handled Findlay's situation differently in the past, but does have ideas about the future.

"Paula has a great future,'' said Burrell. "We are going to have to help her re-invent it and put her back to where she belongs at the top again, and make her believe in herself.

"This is part of our mission, to make our athletes bullet proof, to make sure they have everything they need in place.''

A former triathlete herself, Burrell was the South African coach when the sport made its Olympic debut in Sydney. She went on to become the high performance director for Triathlon South Africa and United States Triathlon. Burrell joined the International Triathlon Union as director of sport development in 2006.

She replaces Kurt Innes who left his role as Triathlon Canada's high performance director in April 2011 to return to the Canadian Sports Centre Pacific.

Alan Trivett, Triathlon Canada's executive director, said he had spoken to Burrell prior to the Olympics. Her hiring wasn't a result of what happened in London but she will examine the situation and possibly make changes.

"We need to do a thorough look at what our processes are and how ... in Paula's case, we manage injuries and what sort of crisis management we have in terms of dealing with an injury and making sure we don't let it fester,'' Trivett said.

"We need to look at this because I don't think we did as good a job as we should have.''

Whitfield called Burrell's hiring "a great move'' that will probably avoid a repeat of what happened to Findlay.

"With Libby in place I don't think that kind of misstep would happen again,'' Whitfield said in an interview.

Trivett said Burrell brings experience to the position.

"She is not someone coming in to cut his or her teeth on the job and to learn as she goes along,'' he said. "She comes in with experience.''

Canada didn't win a triathlon medal in London. Trivett said the results "were well below what we expect or thought we should have.''

A debriefing is being held and it will be Burrell's decision if changes are needed in the organization.

"That will be one of Libby's first tasks to evaluate the team she has working with her and to see where changes may need to be made,'' Trivett said.

One of Burrell's long-term goals is to increase the talent pool, especially on the men's side.

"We always need more athletes,'' she said. "The bigger the pool the higher the peak at the top. You need a lot of people challenging each other.

"My goal would be in 2016, instead of three or four people vying for a slot (at the Olympics) we should have six to eight men and six to eight women challenging each other. Then we are healthy.''

Whitfield has not totally ruled out competing at the 2016 Olympics. He hopes to race some longer distance triathlons, like the Hawaii Ironman, and spend more time with his young family.

He also would like to be involved in mentoring young triathletes.

"I hope I am given that opportunity,'' Whitfield said after dropping his daughter off for the first day of kindergarten. "It's something I enjoy and something I think I can contribute with.''

Burrell, who has been a friend of Whitfield for years, believes there is a role for him with Triathlon Canada.

"I believe if someone is an iconic figure like Simon, it would be a waste not to involved him,'' she said.

"I'm sure him and I will sit down and plan how best we can make this happen.''