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Canadian Simon Whitfield, right, runs on his way to a sixth place finish at the ITU Men's Elite Triathlon World Cup event held at William Hawrelak Park, Edmonton, Alberta, on July 10, 2011. (John Ulan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Canadian Simon Whitfield, right, runs on his way to a sixth place finish at the ITU Men's Elite Triathlon World Cup event held at William Hawrelak Park, Edmonton, Alberta, on July 10, 2011. (John Ulan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

TRIATHLON

Triathletes taking over Toronto freeway Add to ...

Toronto might not have an official Formula One high-speed race, but there will be about 1,000 participants in the inaugural Toronto Triathlon Festival who beg to differ, as they whip down the Don Valley Parkway on their bicycles.

“Athletes will be flying through here. It’ll be their Formula One,” said Simon Whitfield, the Victoria triathlete who launched the July 22 race Wednesday. “We want to show off our sport.”

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The 2000 Olympic champion will race a half-triathlon in Toronto – half the Olympic distance in each of the swimming, cycling and running segments – as his final competitive warm-up for the 2012 Olympics in London.

“For me, it’s not about the competition that day but about staying in a good head space,” said Whitfield, 36, who raced in Toronto 10 years ago.

The Sunday morning race shouldn’t cause the day-long traffic snarls of Toronto’s marathon runs, says organizer Jeff Chong, president of Sports Focused Consulting. “We’ll start this thing at 7 a.m. and we’ll be off the course before people know that it’s happened,” he said.

The path of the full triathlon race will be a 1.5-kilometre lakefront swim, a 40-kilometre bike ride up and down the Don Valley Parkway, then a 10-kilometre run along Toronto’s lake shore stretch of the Gardiner Expressway. Roads we have, and glaciers made the lake. Fortunately, triathlon doesn’t depend heavily on new man-made infrastructures in facility-poor Southern Ontario.

“Triathlon’s not a sport you can just drop into an arena,” said Alan Trivett, executive director of Triathlon Canada. The Toronto Triathlon Festival follows the trend of urban races in Chicago, New York, Tokyo and Melbourne, Australia.

“The city deserves a race of this stature,” Chong said. “It will showcase the financial district and the waterfront. It will be a qualifier for London 2013 [the world championship]and integrate the Pan American Games program.”

The 2015 Pan Ams, to be held in Toronto and area, require a test event. The 2012 race will offer world championship qualifying spots for 2013. Triathlon Canada has bestowed the Canadian championship for 2013 and 2014 on Toronto. The International Triathlon Union likely will declare the 2014 Toronto race a World Cup event with ranking points in world standings, Chong said.

The 2012 race, in support of the humanitarian group Right to Play and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment’s Team Up Foundation, is expected to have a $1.6-million economic impact in Toronto and $2.3-million in Ontario. Whitfield, a Kingston native, is expected to be the lone Canadian Olympian in the field.

“This is a training race for Simon,” Trivett said. Whitfield said he would spend five weeks conditioning in New Zealand and take on perhaps two triathlons before the Olympics. Most of his pre-Olympic preparation will be at home around Victoria.

The only other Canadian preselected for the London Games is Paula Findlay of Edmonton. The balance of the team will be selected in May and announced in June.

Whitfield sprinted past German Stephen Vukovic to win the first Olympic triathlon in Sydney. In 2002 he won Commonwealth gold in Manchester, England. In 2004, he was 11th at the Athens Olympics and in 2008 he won silver behind German Jan Frodeno in Beijing. He’s won 14 World Cup races since 1996 and been a top-10 finisher at the triathlon world championship six times.

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