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Olympic gold and silver medalist Simon Whitfield probably knows better than anyone how to approach an Olympic year. Here, he updates Inside Triathlon editor-in-chief Courtney Baird on how his buildup to London is going.
Triathlete.com: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe you’ve spent a good chunk of your winter down in New Zealand training? If this is true, how did that go?
Simon Whitfield: I absolutely loved the New Zealand experience on so many levels. The other athletes were great fun to be around and learn from. The terrain and setting are second to none—remarkable. I feel like one thing I’ve always been very good at is being open to learning from others—this was certainly the case with Laurent [Vidal], Andrea [Hewitt] and Kris [Gemmell] (amongst many). Being in New Zealand gave me this opportunity.
Triathlete.com: Overall, how has your training been coming along since the 2011 season ended?
SW: Strenuous. We’ve really pushed hard and taken some risks with the volume of training. So far, so good. We shall see how it all turns out. I had to take some risks or continue to get left behind.
Triathlete.com: Are you back in Victoria now? Or have you already headed over to Australia like many others in prep for Sydney?
SW: I’m down in Queenstown preparing for the season. I’ll race Sydney as a bit of a gauge as to where I’m at and how I’m adapting to the increased load.
Triathlete.com: What are your goals for Sydney?
SW: Gauge my progress and have a hit out. Obviously with Olympic points it’s important, but my focus is on London and Sydney is the first chance to see where we are.
Triathlete.com: You probably know better than any triathlete how to successfully approach an Olympic year. How are you going to approach this season as you attempt to win another Olympic medal?
SW: In other Olympic cycles I felt like I was a contender coming in, even in Sydney (although my coach and I were the only ones who felt that way). This year, really, let’s be honest, I’m 37 in a month, people have written me off, and for a while there I was starting to write myself off. But now, well, we shall see. If you’re a true “contender” at the top of the sport, the key is to not change things up, just stay the course and continue to do whatever has been making you successful. If you’re outside of that group then you need to work to close the gaps and be willing to take some risks.
Triathlete.com: Is there anything that you’re specifically trying to improve so that you’re as ready as you can be for London?
SW: The Brownlees [Alistair and Jonathan] and Mr. Gomez [Javier] changed the game. They took the sport to a new level, they have no specific weaknesses, they are the fastest swimmers, they can ride at the front all day long and they are the best runners. I’m specifically working as hard as I can to be the same type of athlete, because otherwise, I lose.
Triathlete.com: Your longtime training partner Kyle Jones recently went to go work with Joel Filliol. What’s it been like now that you guys aren’t training together anymore?
SW: He’s dead to me. I’m kidding—I’m really happy for Kyle. It’s worked out really well for both of us. Kyle’s a bloody hard worker, always working, always on it. I admire that in him and wish him all the best-ish.
Triathlete.com: Have you ever thought about working with Joel again, given you guys had so much success together?
SW: Joel’s a terrific coach, one of the best in the sport, and I’m a big fan. But, no, not really. It didn’t excite me to work with him again. Besides, he has a great group—a great group of people who are pretty sick of having me around.
Triathlete.com: Are you still working with Jon Brown and Triathlon Canada as your primary coaches?
SW: Jon has gone above and beyond, made a lot of sacrifices for us, and he’s incredibly humble about his own accomplishments and his incredible experience. Maybe he needs to be more verbose, as I don’t really think he gets the respect he deserves. It’s incredible to think of his original job description (and compensation) and his responsibilities now—it’s been a huge learning process for him, and I think he now gets “front crawl” versus “freestyle.” But he’s done a remarkable job adapting, learning and applying what he knows. Aside from that, he’s absolutely petrifying to drive with.
Triathlete.com: Both Kyle and Brent McMahon have been doing an awesome job chasing points for Canada, and if they keep things up it looks like Canada will have three country spots for its men. What’s it been like watching these guys go out and accomplish this?
SW: I guess, to me, it’s not about points and chasing spots. It’s all about performance. Improve yourself as an athlete, work your weaknesses and drive yourself to win the races everyone else wants to win: the championships. To me, it’s about winning. I couldn’t give a %#@^ about points—I want to compete at my best. This isn’t about qualifying and participating—it’s about getting the most out of yourself.
Triathlete.com: Thanks Simon. Best of luck to you this year.
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