Road To The Olympic Games

Whitfield's triathlon silver a team effort

Simon Whitfield of Victoria grabbed the headlines with his electrifying final kick to seize the silver medal in the men's triathlon, but the feat might not have been possible without a little help from his friends.

They're perhaps the loneliest of Olympians.

As a triathlete soldiers his way through a 1.5-kilometre swim, a 40-km bike ride and a 10-km run — especially the 10-km run — often the only sounds he hears are from his burning muscles screaming for him to stop, and from his stubborn pride telling them to shut the hell up.

But in Beijing, Canada showed there's no need to go it alone.

Simon Whitfield of Victoria grabbed the headlines with his electrifying final kick to seize the silver medal in the men's race, but the feat might not have been possible without a little help from his friends.

Colin Jenkins of Hamilton, Ont., eagerly accepted his role as Whitfield's bodyguard, keeping rival swimmers and cyclists at a safe distance from his more heralded teammate. Jenkins occasionally dashed out front of the cycling pack to allow the older Whitfield to take advantage of energy-saving air currents.

Even Paul Tichelaar of Edmonton, who had made it clear before the race that he would not play caddy, chipped in by feeding Whitfield information on the ever-evolving field.

"Our communication was spectacular," Whitfield said.

The assistance from his fellow Canadians put Whitfield in position to produce one of the most spectacular individual efforts of the Olympics.

One last kick

Separating himself from his teammates during the closing 10-km run, Whitfield found himself among the lead group of four — including two-time reigning World Cup champion Javier Gomez of Spain — on the final lap.

Suddenly, though, Whitfield began to fade in the stifling heat, and his hopes of adding to his Olympic gold from 2000 in Sydney looked to be getting away, along with the three men in front of him.

But the former champion refused to quit. Digging deep for one last kick no one knew he had, Whitfield zipped past the surprised leaders on the final straight, with the tape scarcely more than 100 metres ahead.

The gutsy sprint took a little too much out of him, though, and Germany's Jan Frodeno overtook Whitfield to take the gold. Australia's Bevan Docherty claimed the bronze, with Gomez crossing the line a shocking fourth.

Tichelaar finished a respectable 28th, while a joyous Jenkins skipped across the line in 50th. That made five Canadians in the top 50: a day earlier, Edmonton's Carolyn Murray was 29th and Montreal's Kathy Tremblay was 31st (Vancouver's Lauren Groves crashed out in the cycling stage) in the women's race won by Emma Snowsill of Australia.

The day, though, belonged to Whitfield.

"To be able to fight my way back to the podium, that was hard, that was so hard — this was a harder race than Sydney was," the silver medallist said.

Imagine how hard it would've been without two pals watching your back.