Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Canada's Whitfield takes silver in triathlon


Canada's Whitfield takes silver in triathlon

Canada's Simon Whitfield captured the silver medal in the men's triathlon Tuesday at the Beijing Olympics.

Whitfield, who lives in Victoria, mounted a furious rally to briefly take the lead late in the closing sprint before being overtaken over the final stretch by Germany's Jan Frodeno.

"I kind of fought my way on there, and I thought there's no time like the present," Whitfield said. "I tried to make it a battle of pure willpower. I gave it everything I had."

Whitfield finished five seconds back of the surprise winner, who completed the course in one hour, 48 minutes, 53 seconds.

New Zealand's Bevan Docherty took the bronze, 12 seconds back of Frodeno.

Pre-race favourite Javier Gomez of Spain faded late to finish fourth.

Edmonton's Paul Tichelaar finished 28th, while Colin Jenkins of Hamilton, Ont., was 50th.

Another gear

Whitfield, who won gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics before stumbling to 11th in 2004 in Athens, looked to be falling out of medal contention late in Tuesday's race, which comprised a 1.5-kilometre swim followed by a 40-km cycling stage and a 10-km run.

But after Gomez, Frodeno and Docherty dropped him from the four-man lead pack heading into the bell lap of the final leg, Whitfield found another gear and moved into the lead on the closing straightaway.

The canny 33-year-old tried to block the taller Frodeno's path as the runners sprinted for the finish, but the big German proved too strong, overtaking Whitfield with perhaps 100 metres left and cruising through the tape.

"I tried hard, I tried really hard. For a moment there, I thought I had it," Whitfield said.

Maybe the biggest surprise was Gomez's failure to produce a strong final 5 km, his trademark.

Unable to shake his pursuers heading into the final lap, the reigning world champion and two-time reigning World Cup season champion didn't have enough left in the tank to try a sprint for his first Olympic medal amid hot and humid conditions in Beijing.

Lurked patiently

Whitfield was able to execute a solid race plan from the get-go.

Jenkins, whose job was to act as an escort of sorts for Whitfield over the first two stages, emerged from the water in the Ming Tombs Reservoir more or less even with Whifield, with the Canadians keeping Gomez in sight.

After the athletes picked up their bikes for the cycling stage, Jenkins briefly took a turn at the front as Whitfield lurked patiently amid the large lead pack of about 50 riders through the halfway point.

Cycling specialist Tichelaar, who had made it clear before the race that he wouldn't act as Whitfield's rabbit, also kept pace with the main group.

Whitfield said his teammates' help during the race was invaluable.

"Our communication was spectacular," he said.

The first major breakaway happened on the penultimate cycling lap as three riders — Mexico's Francisco Serrano, Belgium's Axel Zeebroek and Luxembourg's Dirk Bockel — moved boldly to open up a 45-second advantage on their pursuers.

Refused to quit

The pace proved too much for Serrano, who fell back toward the chase pack near the end of the bell lap. By that time, Zeebroek and Bockel had opened up a one-minute lead, and they high-fived to celebrate their accomplishment before ditching their bikes.

But the two pretenders soon began fading, and the chase pack — including the three Canadians, Frodeno and Gomez — gained ground over the first lap of the run.

Britain's Alistair Brownlee was the first to catch up toward the end of the second lap, leading a cluster of nine runners that included Gomez and Whitfield.

Gomez and teammate Ivan Rana quickly made a move, zipping ahead as the top pack thinned out to six runners, with Whitfield bringing up the rear.

Brownlee dropped back to make it five at the front, and Rana traded spots with the hard-charging Frodeno, who joined the frontrunners as the leaders headed into the bell lap.

That's when it looked to become a three-man race, as Gomez, Frodeno and Docherty left Whitfield in their wake.

But the Canadian refused to quit, digging deep to catch up and then surpass the leaders on the final straight before Frodeno's finishing kick forced him to settle for silver.

"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," Whitfield said.

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