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Simon Whitfield’s figures change of direction will sharpen his competitive edge

whitfieldSimon Whitfield hasn't lost his competitive spirit. He just wants to find new challenges.

The 2000 Sydney Olympics triathlon champion plans to concentrate on racing in Ironman triathlons, some half-triathlons and even some marathons in the new year. He also is planning on hosting his own event in Barrie, Ont., next summer.

The decision to take a hiatus from Olympic-distance events means Whitfield can't remain a member of Canada's national triathlon team. It's something he understands and accepts.

"Your intention has to be very clear that you're working towards the next Olympic Games,'' Whitfield said in an interview. "I couldn't do that this year.

"It's not right for me right now. I want to race the different distances.''

There's a chance Whitfield could still compete at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. But the way the 32-year-old Victoria resident talks, it's a slim maybe.

"I just won't be on the national team in 2013,'' he said. "I can revisit that in 2014.

"If I have a change of heart, if I miss the distance, if I don't enjoy the new challenge, they (Triathlon Canada) certainly haven't closed the door. As of right now, if I stay off the national team, you can't compete at the Olympic Games.''

[In photos: Whitfield named Canada's flag bearer for London Games]

An Ironman or full triathlon involves a 3.8-kilometre swim, 180-kilometre bicycle race and 42.2-kilometre run. A half-triathlon is 1.9-kilometre swim, 90-kilometre bike and 21-kilometre run. The Olympic distance is 1.5-kilometre swim, 40-kilometre bike and 10-kilometre run.

Whitfield hopes to compete in eight events in 2013. He wants to do one of the Canadian Ironman events that are held in Penticton, B.C., Whistler, B.C. and Mont-Tremblant, Que. He'd like compete in the Vancouver Sun Run 10-kilometre road race, travel to Toronto for a marathon or half-marathon, maybe even do a bicycle race.

Part of the reason for the change is Whitfield's desire to reduce travel so he can spend more time with his wife and two children. He also wants to reconnect with the sport and have some fun again.

"The thing with the Olympic distance for triathlon is it's a hundred athletes that travel together, all at the elite level, and don't really interact with the core of the sport, the grassroots,'' said Whitfield, Canada's greatest triathlon ambassador because of his Olympic victory and engaging personality.

"I kind of miss the grassroots stuff. I kind of miss being at the big competitions with everybody else.''

Whitfield is also teaming up with fellow Canadian Graham Fraser, a member of the Ironman Hall of Fame, to host a three-day event in Barrie. The idea is to bring together runners, swimmers, bikers and even paddlers for competitions in different distances.

"Some events will be quite unique and some will be kind of standardized,'' Whitfield said.

"Hopefully we are going to expand and do two or three different venues across Canada. That's our goal.''

Whitfield played a huge role in the growth of triathlon in Canada. He won the Olympic gold medal in Sydney and added a silver at the 2008 Beijing Games. His contribution to sport was recognized when he was named Canada's flag-bearer for last summer's Olympics in London.

His dream of a third Olympic medal ended when Whitfield crashed early in the bike race at in the London triathlon.

The door may be closing on one part of his career but Whitfield is excited about stepping off in a new direction.

"There are a lot of interesting things out there,'' he said. "It gives me an opportunity to be a bit more versatile and do different things.

"After 14 years of being focused on the Olympics it was time to focus on something else.''

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