Simon Whitfield picked an interesting time to start a fight.
Just two days before he is set to compete in the triathlon at the London Olympics, Whitfield blasted a host of people for what he said were lapses in the training of Paula Findlay, who finished last in the women's triathlon Saturday. Findlay came into the race as one of the favourites, but she had been struggling with a hip injury for months and had not finished a full triathlon in nearly a year. She was named to the Olympic team last fall, despite the injury.
Whitfield started grumbling even before Findlay had finished her race, sending out a tweet suggesting many people should be held responsible for her training and treatment. He kept going Sunday.
"I'm willing to stand up and say 'What happened was wrong,'" Whitfield told Canadian Press. after a training session. "I do think the people who have jumped ship on her should be held accountable."
Findlay spent months coping with the injury and decided in the spring not to have surgery. Instead she opted for treatment and hoped to get back into full training. But she couldn't run consistently until only a few weeks before the Olympics. Then in June she split with her coach, Patrick Kelly, and began training with Whitfield and his coach, Jon Brown.
On Saturday she said her legs had no energy and she felt so wobbly during the run portion of the event she nearly dropped out. A team doctor urged her to finish, she said. She came in 52nd place, more than 12 minutes behind the winner, Nicola Spirig of Switzerland. She added that her hip felt fine.
Whitfield blamed Findlay's training and medical treatment for her troubles. "It's a training-design issue," he said. "An injury is an injury but you can recover from that if your training design is proper…When you have a plan that just says, 'Let's pretend we're not injured and the moment we're back, we're just back into training,' and you do this not once, not twice, not three times, you do this eight times. You pile back into the car and you run it back into a brick wall."
He pointed a finger at Debbie Muir, acting high-performance director at Own The Podium, and Dr. David Smith, a sports scientist from the University of Calgary.
"I want Doc Smith and Patrick and Debbie Muir to step up and say, 'I endorsed that plan. She was injured for a year. She did what I told her to do and in the end, it failed,'" Whitfield said. "Have the courage to say, 'Yesterday's result is on me.'" Whitfield certainly has credibility. He won the inaugural Olympic triathlon in 2000 and took silver in Beijing in 2008.
Triathlon officials weren't pleased with Whitfield's outburst, but acknowledged their role in Findlay's struggles. "I'm disappointed in the timing of Simon's remarks, but there is some validity in them that we all at Triathlon Canada, collectively, need to take responsibility for what transpired during Paula's Olympic race," said a statement issued by Alan Trivett, executive director and acting high-performance director of Triathlon Canada. He also said Findlay trained through her injury too much and didn't take advice to rest and recover.
"Triathlon Canada surrounded Paula Findlay with a team of dedicated individuals – all of whom – were committed to helping Paula achieve excellence in London. Post-Olympics, Triathlon Canada will work collaboratively with our team and partners [and] work to improve our injury management and athlete preparation protocols as we all look back at Paula's preparations for the Games, in order to ensure that we continue to provide nothing but the best possible support for all our athletes," he added.
Kelly was not available for comment. But he told the Victoria Times Colonist that Whitfield's tweet was "inaccurate" and "disappointing."
"I guess Simon is frustrated," Kelly told the newspaper. "Everyone feels badly for Paula. Everyone in Victoria was cheering for Paula and wanted to see her succeed. Everyone bears some responsibility. [The complicated injury situation] was a very difficult thing."
For her part, Findlay stood by Whitfield. "I trust Simon 100 per cent and I'm fine with him saying that," she told reporters Sunday. "I feel really lucky to have him in my corner."
With a report from The Canadian Press