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Olympics2012The Games: Actions and words

Posted: Sunday, August 5, 2012 | 09:27 PM

Categories: Olympics2012

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Simon Whitfield, seen after being announced as Canada's flagbearer in the Opening Ceremony earlier this summer, stood up for teammate Paula Findlay on Sunday. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press) Simon Whitfield, seen after being announced as Canada's flagbearer in the Opening Ceremony earlier this summer, stood up for teammate Paula Findlay on Sunday. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

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Sometimes the greatest of athletes speak out on issues that matter to them, and Michael Phelps and Simon Whitfield did just that on Sunday, writes Scott Russell.
Most of the time Olympic athletes do most of their talking, in a figurative sense, on the field of play. In that regard their actions speak louder than their words.
 
But sometimes, the greatest of athletes speak out on issues that matter to them. And when they can back up their words with the things they've accomplished, people tend to listen.
 
In the first instance, swimmer Michael Phelps called it a career after winning his 18th Olympic gold medal in the medley relay and cementing his place as the most decorated athlete in Games history. He called a press conference and it was packed. Everyone was there to hear him say the following words.
 
"I want to do a lot of things in my life and staring at a black line at the bottom of a pool is no longer one of them."
 
He retired.
 
"I want to see some things." Phelps said. "It's been 20 years of hotel rooms and swimming pools and not much else. I want to see something else."
 
But Phelps also had some reflections on his sport and his desire to see it grow. He was particularly relieved that this Olympic swim meet was without controversy surrounding space age suits that had plagued championships of the recent past.
 
He made it clear that he didn't like the technology that got in the way of pure performance in spite of the fact that he has long endorsed the largest swim suit manufacturer in the World, the company that led the aquatics arms race.
 
"These Games were the way it's supposed to be," Phelps declared. "Swimming is not supposed to be about what suit you wear. It should be about how hard you work. I've seen Missy Franklin and Sun Yang and how much work they do. The lesson should be that if you work hard you win."
 
Then there's Simon Whitfield, Canada's flag bearer and two-time Olympic medalist in triathlon.
He watched his 23 year-old teammate Paula Findlay struggle to finish her first Olympic triathlon in last place.
 
Not so long ago she was the sport's darling but her meteoric rise has been stalled by a mysterious hip injury. She hadn't raced internationally in more than a year.
 
Seeing her reduced to tears on a race course where she had once been victorious was too much for Whitfield.
 
He lashed out.
 
"There were many people around her that supported and endorsed a plan that was destined to fail," Whitfield said in advance of his training session today. "An inexperienced coach with an inexperienced athlete, it was a perfect storm of a situation that was destined to go awry."
 
Whitfield went on to lay blame not only on her coaches but also the medical staff and the Own the Podium program for abandoning Findlay just weeks before the Olympics.
 
"I wasn't misquoted," Whitfield said of his first reaction on Twitter. "It was completely mismanaged and its' all history now, and you learn from it and I'm not saying people should be fired. I'm just saying that people should stand up and say that's on me because it was all on Paula yesterday and we all saw it."
 
Whitfield's outburst attracted immediate attention and had Canadian triathlon officials claiming that everyone shared the blame for Findlay's devastating last place finish.
 
"No I'm not really comfortable with the situation we're at today," admitted Executive Director of Triathlon Canada Alan Trivett. "The whole team has to be accountable and responsible for what happened. Anywhere along the road we could have made different decisions but at the time, with the information we had, we felt like we were doing the right thing."
 
The bottom line is that Findlay, while medically fit, was not ready to race. Whitfield wondered aloud why only the athlete was paying the price for a poor performance.
 
Based on his reputation as an exceptional competitor people listened to what Whitfield had to say and reacted. As for his own race, he left no doubt as to his ultimate focus.
 
"It's a lot of pressure and we care about how we do," Whitfield said. "On Tuesday I'll live up to the Olympic ideal, which is to be prepared. I will be prepared and I will give everything."
 
In other words, just like Michael Phelps, Simon Whitfield is aiming to make his actions speak louder than his words.

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