Simon Whitfield is suffering the first crisis of confidence in his decorated triathlon career.
It's been a couple of years since the 36-year-old from Kingston, Ont., finished on the podium of a World Cup race.
The winner of Olympic gold in 2000 and silver in 2008 wasn't able to race in last year's world championship because of a knee injury suffered when he was hit by a car while training for the race.
Whitfield opened this season finishing 30th in an Internationanl Triathlon Union World Championship Series race in Madrid, Spain, and then did not finish his second race in Kitzbuhel, Austria, due to illness. He's currently ranked 55th in the eight-race series that determines the season's world champion.
With the 2012 Olympics in London a year away, Whitfield could use some positive reinforcement Sunday when he races an International Triathlon Union World Cup in Edmonton. He's won 14 World Cup races during his career, but none since 2009.
"It's the first time in my career I've ever really struggled with any kind of belief issues on whether or not I could do it," he said.
But three-time Olympian treats his situation with his trademark wide grin and mischievous wit. Spaniard Javier Gomez and the Brownlee brothers from Britain — Jonathan and Alistair — may have supplanted him as world favourites in men's triathlon, but Whitfield doesn't plan to go down without a fight.
"This Olympic cycle is rope-a-dope, which means you get punched against the rope, everyone counts you out and say you're about to fall and you're done, and then you take one big swing and maybe that haymaker lands and maybe it doesn't and it's OK," Whitfield explained.
"I certainly have wondered if I can still do this, but then I love it so much. It's cliche, but now I have that sense the end is near, so I'd better appreciate this and I really do."
Whitfield would be a 37-year-old veteran at the next Olympics, in stark contrast to the 26-year-old upstart he was when he sprinted to a wild Olympic victory in Sydney, Australia. While he doesn't think the Olympic triathlon in London would be the last race of his career, Whitfield says it will likely be his final Olympics.
Whitfield trains out of Victoria, where he lives with wife Jennie and their daughters Pippa Katherine and Evelyn. He says the knee injury he suffered prior to last year's world championship didn't carry over to this year and that he had a good winter of training.
"The first two races, I just didn't race very well in the first one and I got a little unlucky in the second," Whitfield said.
Whitfield, Kyle Jones of Oakville, Ont., and Victoria's Brent McMahon are Canada's national-team racers in the men's elite field Sunday afternoon. The 1.5-kilometre swim, 40-kilometre bike and 10-kilometre run will be held in William Hawrelak Park in Edmonton's river valley.
Jones, 26, arrived in Edmonton with momentum. He's won three straight ITU-sanctioned races on the circuit below the World Cup.
The Brownlee brothers and Gomez are not racing in Edmonton, but former world champion Bevan Docherty of New Zealand will be among the Canadians' chief rivals. Whitfield and Docherty are the only men in the world with a pair of Olympic medals in triathlon. The Kiwi won silver in 2004 and a bronze behind Whitfield in 2008.
But much of the attention in Edmonton will be on the women's race and hometown heroine Paula Findlay, who has won three straight world championship series races this season and is ranked No. 1 in the world.
"I want to out-run Paula on Sunday," Whitfield joked.
Whitfield refuses to take credit for Findlay's meteoric rise the last two years, but his silver medal in Beijing kept a stream of Own The Podium funding flowing to Triathlon Canada, and thus helped Findlay's development.
"I think Simon validated everything we've been doing and continue to do," said Triathlon Canada's executive director Alan Trivett. "When we put Paula forward before last year, we put her forward as a targeted athlete before the year started and then she had that breakout year.
"Our funding has only gone up by leaps and bounds to the point where we have no excuses on the podium side."
Triathlon Canada employed an audacious and controversial strategy for the men's Olympic race in 2008. They named Colin Jenkins to the Canadian team to serve as a domestique for Whitfield on the bike leg, where drafting is allowed.
Whitfield says there are no plans yet for a similar strategy in London.
"It's not on the radar," he said. "The deal in 2008 was, he who proves he is a medal contender, a team would be put together to work for him. I have not proved I am a medal contender for 2012. Kyle hasn't and Brent hasn't. Therefore, the conversation hasn't happened. I wouldn't even begin the conversation."
Trivett won't close the door on repeating that strategy in London, but the priority is to qualify a full triathlon team -- three men and three women -- for 2012. Edmonton is the only Canadian stop on the ITU's World Cup circuit and the host men need to collect valuable ranking points here, he said.
"Simon, Kyle and Brent, we need this to bust this one open and see if we can't dominate the podium because we need the points," Trivett pointed out.
Whitfield has little left to prove to himself and to the world in triathlon. The magazine Inside Triathlon ranked him among the best 15 male triathletes of all time this year.
It's not the money that's kept him going to 2012, he says.
"I would make much more money if I stopped. I have lots of opportunities," Whitfield stated, pointing out that from March to October, he turns down public appearance fees worth up to $15,000 each in order to race and train.
Love of the sport and, despite his recent struggles, the ego-boost he gets from racing the best triathletes in the world, keep driving him towards 2012.
"It's such a great thing to call a job," Whitfield said.