He has been an Olympic medalist, flag bearer and lightning rod for controversy. Somehow, Simon Whitfield always manages to get noticed at the Olympic Games.
But not in London, at least not in the swimming, biking and running that make up the triathlon.
Canada’s most decorated triathlete dropped out of the Olympic triathlon in Hyde Park Tuesday after losing control of his bike and wiping out just minutes into the cycling portion. Whitfield scraped his left side, knees, shins and collarbone in the crash and had to have stitches on the big toe of his left foot.
“That’s not how I pictured the script ending,” he said shortly afterward. Britain’s Alistair Brownlee finished first in 1:46:25 followed 11 seconds later by Javier Gomez of Spain and Alistair’s brother Jonathan who came in third in 1:46:56.
“I just hit the speed bump just as I went to put my shoe on,” Whitfield said adding that he wasn’t quite sure exactly what happened. “I hit the speed bump at a funny angle...my bike went out from underneath me.”
He’d come out of the water after the 1,500-metre swim in 15th spot, roughly 30 seconds behind the leader and looked to be at least within grasp of the leaders. “I had a great swim,” he said. But then he started pressing to catch up with the leaders and wasn’t concentrating when he hit the bump and clipped wheels with another rider.
Whitfield was coy about his future in the sport, saying he just wants to spend some time with his family.
“I really enjoyed this year,” he said adding that he came into the Games in great shape.
He saw his wife Jennie and daughters Pippa, 5, and Evelyn, 2, shortly after getting stitched up. Pippa scooped up some maple leafs to hand to him as a bouquet.
“It was hard to see my daughter [Pippa] upset and my wife. I was pretty upset. That’s life. That means it means something,” he said. His wife “hugged me, my collarbone is quite sore, and she said but you can still drink beer with your right hand. We had a good laugh at that.”
The other Canadians in the race, Kyle Jones and Brent McMahon, finished 25th and 27th respectively. Both were more than three minutes behind the winner.
It has not been a good Olympics for the Canadian triathlon team. Paula Findaly finished last in the women's race Saturday and Kathy Tremblay dropped out after being lapped. Whitfield insisted the Canadians will bounce back.
"We’ve had other great races," he said adding that he expects Findlay and Jones in particular to come back strong. "That's racing."
All eyes in Britain were on the Brownlee brothers, two of the top ranked triathletes in the world. The brothers live together, train together and have become intense rivals. Many in Britain picked them to finish first and second, particularly given that Alistair, 24, is the world champion and has won 12 of the 15 world series events he has raced since 2009, including one in London last year.
Jonathan, 22, has won six of his past 13 top races including events in San Diego and Madrid earlier this year when Alistair was injured.
They did not disappoint, emerging close to each other near the front after an incredibly fast swim, led by Richard Varga of Slovakia. A lead group quickly developed on the bike portion consisting of the Brownlees, Gomez, Varga, and Alessandro Fabian of Italy. But the pack pulled them back.
The 10-kilometre run came down to the Brownlees and Gomez. Alistair pulled away, opening up a sizable gap that Gomez could not close. Jonathan fell back as well and had to serve a 15-second penalty for an improper changeover after the swim.