The Beijing Olympics
On the controversy surrounding Canada’s decision to name Colin Jenkins to the Canadian Olympic team for Beijing to serve as a domestique for Whitfield.
Whitfield: When I started in Sydney we had zero budget for high performance, and we got zero funding, and now we have $1.3 million, and it’s based on medals. That’s just the way it is. So if we could do it again with domestiques, we would do it again, unapologetically. In Beijing, you know, our favorite expression was that people love to—they’d wave the anarchy flag with the left hand and they’d cash checks with the right hand. They would say, “No! Stick it to the man!” And then they would just be like, “Thank you! Money, money, money.”
Colin Jenkins: Going into the Olympics I was the fifth-ranked Canadian and there were obviously only three spots. There was a bit of a controversy. But we knew that we had a game plan, and we laid it out on the table. It caused controversy. Some people were really against it. It especially got a lot of negative press. It really put a lot of pressure on Simon. It also put pressure on the team, if I didn’t do well or if it didn’t work out. Just imagine if Simon [had been] a little off on his run [that day]. And there were people who were so negative, who were blatantly writing in the newspaper all these stupid quotes about him having a big head and “Colin doesn’t deserve to go to the Olympics” and “Simon’s running Triathlon Canada.”
On the special group dynamic of the squad that Whitfield trained with in Victoria leading up to Beijing. The squad included Whitfield, Jenkins, fellow Canadian athletes Dan Wells and Kyle Jones, and American Ironman athlete Jordan Rapp.
Whitfield: I had a ton of pressure in Beijing. That was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. … We had that great squad. I felt real pressure, in a positive way, from our squad because we had a really special group of people.
Jenkins: We all worked so well together. It was a group of us out there. If he didn’t win a medal or he didn’t do well, we never felt like he would be letting us down. But we were all working together for that one goal of him trying to get a medal.
Joel Filliol (Whitfield’s coach from 2004, after the Athens Olympics, until 2008, through Beijing): There’s often talk about the team tactics of things. I don’t think that was enough. How we raced on the day may or may not have impacted the race. How much did it help to win? I couldn’t say. But I can say that all of that time training together, and the work done together—sharing that common goal—was essential to supporting Simon. Beijing was a pretty special performance. There were a number of challenges he overcame. He had his first daughter the year before, which impacted the training he was able to do. And it wasn’t an easy day, either. … It wasn’t the kind of day where it looked like it was easy. There were a number of times when he dropped back [from the leaders] and he pulled himself back on.
Jordan Rapp: It was the perfect storm of Simon being at his peak and his best and really mentoring a lot of us, and in exchange for the mentorship that he and Joel offered was we were there as support staff for his goal, and his mentorship provided support for our goals. It came down to finding a group of individuals, of finding goals to focus on, that overlapped enough for a good training environment but didn’t overlap too much that Simon felt he had to race for a gold medal every single day.
On Whitfield’s silver medal being the squad’s medal
Whitfield: Jordan Rapp cried his eyes out when I won a silver, and everybody on our whole squad did. We all earned it together. I saw them all later and I was like, “This is our medal. I didn’t win this medal—we won this medal. It’s the squad.” I believed it.
Jenkins (who finished in dead last after serving as Whitfield’s domestique): I was going into the last lap and Simon was finishing, and there was a team mechanic on the corner. I asked, “What place did he come in?” And he held up No. 2. That whole last lap, I was so ecstatic. What we were training for for so long, that one goal of him getting a medal, it was so—it just made everything worthwhile.