Road To The Olympic Games

Summer Sports

The Ryder Cup of triathlon? Simon Whitfield helping launch new event

Everyone seems to love the triathlon at the Olympics, but the sport can struggle to maintain momentum during the four years in between. A new, team-based competition hopes to change that, with the help of a Canadian legend.

Collins Cup aims to add team element to individual sport

Canada's Simon Whitfield, who won Olympic triathlon gold in 2000 and silver in 2008, will serve as a captain for the inaugural Collins Cup in 2018. (John Ulan/Canadian Press)

Every four years, during the Summer Olympics, many Canadians are reacquainted with the triathlon, an exciting event that combines running, swimming and cycling. But outside of that, the sport remains relatively off the radar for most people.

That could change if Olympic gold medallist Simon Whitfield has his way. The Canadian will serve as a captain for a new, team-based international triathlon competition that's aiming to shine a new spotlight on the sport and its athletes.

Launching in June 2018 in an undetermined location, the Collins Cup will consist of three teams — the United States, Europe and an international squad. Each team will have 12 athletes (six men, six women) with the first eight determined by international rankings and the other four selected by the team captains — similar to the process used in golf's Ryder Cup.

Whitfield, who will be a captain for the international team, sees the Collins Cup as the next progression for a sport that has evolved from its roots in the gruelling Ironman event. That competition began four decades ago in Hawaii as the brainchild of John and Judy Collins, who were able to attract only 15 participants for the inaugural running.

"It's a great step for triathlon," Whitfield says. "We need legacy events in our sport. We're starting quite a wonderful and colourful history, but the Collins Cup pays tribute to a sport that grew out of an audacious challenge in Hawaii."

Mic'd up

Each athlete in the Colllins Cup will cover expected distances of three kilometres swimming, 120 kilometres biking and 25 kilometres running (the Ironman is 3.86 x 180.25 x 42.2, while the Olympic triathlon is 1.5 x 40 x 10). One athlete from each team will compete in each heat, meaning there will be 12 separate races, staggered 10 minutes apart.

The two-day event will also have athletes mic'd up during the running and biking legs so that the TV audience is able to hear what they're saying. The team captains will also have contact with the athletes while they're competing to coach them throughout their races.

Organizers say the prize purse will be "one of the highest in the sport."

Whitfield is a fan of the format and is excited about the potential the event has to create new fans and participants. He likes the idea of introducing a team element to what has traditionally been an individual sport.

"We're innovators. That's core to the triathlete experience," he says.

International flavour

Whitfield became a household name in Canada after winning triathlon gold in a thrilling finish at the 2000 Games in Sydney, where the sport made its Olympic debut. He would go on to compete in the triathlon for Canada at the next three Olympics, capturing silver in 2008 with another memorable finishing kick. He has won his country's only two medals in the sport at the Olympics.

"The sport showcased itself and I just got to play on the stage," says Whitfield, who served as Canada's flag-bearer for the 2012 Olympics in London. "If we can build a format that grows the sport, then my work is done."

On the international team, Whitfield will be joined by fellow captains Lisa Bentley, Craig Alexander and Erin Baker.

Bentley, also a Canadian, has been competing in the Ironman series since the early 1990s. Despite being diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis in 1988, she has won 11 international Ironman competitions.

Alexander is from Australia and a three-time Ironman world champion. Baker is from New Zealand. She finished her career in 1994 having won 104 of the 121 triathlons she entered.

All this to say the international team will have a wealth of experience to lean on.

"We're going to be competitive," says Whitfield. "The level since I competed has continued to rise. The athletes continue to evolve."

About the Author

Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.

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