In a little more than one year, Canada's Paula Findlay has gone from rookie to the world's No. 1 ranked women's triathlete.
The rise of the Edmonton native began back in July 2010. Ranked 53rd at the time, Findlay shocked the field as she won the ITU world championships series event in London, becoming the first Canadian to do so.
To prove that her victory wasn't a fluke, Finlay won again one month later Kitzbuehel, Austria.
This season, the 22-year-old has won three straight ITU events, pushing her to the top of the rankings. But things haven't been all peaches and cream for the young star. In early July, she suffered a right hip injury during a training run, forcing the distraught Edmontonian to miss the event in her hometown a week later.
Finlay has been running pain free for the last four days but her fitness level, particularly with her running, is not up to the level of her competitors.
Still, with the London Olympics less than a year away, she is now one of the few Canadians considered a gold-medal favourite.
During a conference call in preparation for Saturday's race in London (CBC, CBCSports, 3:20 a.m. ET) Findlay took time to discuss her quick rise to the top, and began with an update of her health.
Findlay: I've had a pretty rough four weeks since Edmonton. I missed that race with the intention of being healthy for this weekend, and unfortunately it's been a pretty slow healing process. It just takes time. I haven't had consistent run training at all. I'm still going into the race and I am running pain free right now, but my worry is that I just haven't trained [as hard] for five weeks. My expectations are lower than usual heading into it.
I would love going into this race [having] my top form and be competitive with the top girls, but realistically at this point that might not be possible. Despite not being ideally prepared to race my best I think I'm just going to make the best of it, with keeping in mind that I don't want to injure myself further.
CBCSports.ca: So do you have a different mindset heading into the race this weekend?
Findlay: In a way it takes a little bit of the pressure and expectations away because I don't have them on myself. People are aware that I'm injured and I haven't been running and that the pressure to win is a little bit gone. If I have a good race somehow then that's great, but if not then I know it's because the run training isn't there. I hate making excuses and I have been training hard for three weeks at altitude with my swim and my bike. I'm still fit, I just haven't run. I'm going to be smart this weekend. If it's getting worse or if I feel it's going to hamper the rest of my season I'll be able to stop the race.
CBCSports.ca: You've only been at the elite level for a little more than a year. Can you explain your rise from rookie to the No. 1 ranked woman in such a short time?
Findlay: I'm not training much differently than I did when I was an Under-23 [athlete] and when I was a junior. It's just been a quick rise and I've had some good luck. My races have all gone really well, I've never really had a bad triathlon before so it's been a fun year.
CBCSports.ca: You've already won this event, and Saturday's course is the same as the one you'll be competing in at the 2012 London Games. How big of an advantage is this for you?
Findlay: I think it's an advantage to see the course a year out from the Olympics and that's why I really want to race on Saturday despite not being completely ready for it. I always feel more comfortable going back to a race that I've done before, but it's not necessarily an advantage because every single girl that I'm racing has also done the race before. It's not to gain an advantage, it's to feel more comfortable next year and have a bit more confidence, especially with the bike course.
CBCSports.ca: With your emergence you'll be one of a few Canadian athletes that will be a gold-medal favourite at the London Olympics. Is that putting too much pressure on your shoulders or are you ready for it?
Findlay: It is a lot of pressure and I don't like thinking about it or reading about it. Last year at this time, before the London race, I wasn't even thinking that I can make the Olympic team and now I'm being considered a medal hopeful, so it is a lot of pressure. It's so far ahead and so much can happen between now and then that I'm sort of putting it aside for now, but [I'm] keeping it in the back of my mind because that is an important race for me.
CBCSports.ca: In an earlier interview with CBC Sports, you admit to feeling nervous prior to every race to the point where you question why you even took up the sport. Why does your anxiety level raise so high?
Findlay: I think I just care so much about it and I put my whole life into it. I'm putting school on hold and I just work really hard. I want to do well and I don't want to disappoint myself or other people. And with the success that I've been having comes the added pressure, which also adds nerves and more people knowing my name, and expecting things out of me. I've always been that way. Even when I was a swimming at 11, I would get extremely nervous so it's just part of it.
CBCSports.ca: Exactly when does that go away?
Findlay: It goes away as soon as I start, but it just makes the whole lead-up to the race a little difficult. I feel a lot better when I get out of the swim [and] if I had a good swim. The whole swim is very hectic and I never necessarily feel very comfortable, but the nerves are gone by this point. It's just feeling more relaxed and confident.
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