Whitfield tries to catch a Tiger in triathlon
When it comes to the men's triathlon, there's Javier Gomez, and there's everyone else.
The 25-year-old Spaniard has dominated the sport over the last three seasons, winning the 2006 and 2007 World Cup season titles and putting himself in position for a three-peat with four victories already in '08. Gomez also added his first world championship crown this year in Vancouver.
The five-foot-nine, 152-pound dynamo will try to add an Olympic gold medal to his trophy case when he makes his Summer Games debut on Tuesday (Day 11) in Beijing (Monday, 10 p.m. ET).
The Olympic race consists of a 1.5-kilometre swim, followed by a 40-km cycling leg and a 10-km run.
"[Gomez] has raised the bar in triathlon," Brian Mahony, the International Triathlon Union's media director, told CBC Sports. "Before, a competitor could be weak in one discipline and still fare well overall, but not anymore. Gomez is strong in swimming, cycling and running."
Looking to spoil Gomez's golden plans will be Canadian Simon Whitfield, a former Olympic champion.
'The Tiger Woods of triathlon'
Whitfield, 33, may be eight years removed from his victory in Sydney, but the Victoria native is still one of the world's finest triathletes. Ranked fifth in the ITU points standings, Whitfield finished sixth at this year's world championships, losing a lunging fall at the finish line to Matthew Reed of the U.S. by 4-100ths of a second.
Two other Canadians will also compete in the 56-man field: Paul Tichelaar, 25, of Edmonton (12th in the ITU standings, ninth at worlds) and Colin Jenkins, 25, of Hamilton, Ont. (132nd, 54th).
Despite his relatively advanced age, Whitfield remains Canada's best hope for a triathlon medal. And he thinks he can take down Gomez, despite his feeling that the Spaniard is the greatest of all time.
"I don't want to be left behind in Beijing," Whitfield told CBC Sports. "I want to beat Javier. He is the best competitor the sport has ever seen. He's become the Tiger Woods of triathlon."
Whitfield has the tools to pull off an upset, having rebounded from a disappointing 11th place finish at the 2004 Athens Games, where a tactical error in the cycling segment cost him big. Whitfield said he is running faster now than he was when he won Olympic gold eight years ago, and has also improved his swimming.
"When Javier stands up to get out of the water in Beijing," Whitfield said. "I'll stand up too."
Strong finish needed
Gomez showed he wasn't invincible at this year's European championships in Lisbon, where he finished seventh in defence of his 2007 title.
If Whitfield is to surprise the world No. 1, he'll need to neutralize Gomez's trademark finishing kick, which typically begins at the halfway point of the 10-km run and doesn't stop until Gomez breaks the tape.
The Spaniard used a late spurt to win the worlds in Vancouver, pulling away from the pack to take the race in one hour, 49 minutes, 48 seconds.
Whitfield knows all about strong finishes, having used one to clinch gold in Sydney. He'll hope to have enough left in the tank Tuesday to pass Gomez en route to the podium in Beijing.
Count Canadian team leader Tom Patrick among those who think Whitfield can do it.
"It's going to be a challenge for anyone to run down Javier Gomez, but we really expect Simon to challenge Javier for the gold medal."