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Huge challenges ahead for Triathlon Canada

Paula Findlay of Canada resumes the run course after stopping with team doctor Steve Keeler (back) during Triathlon competition at the 2012 Olympic Games in London on Saturday, August 4, 2012

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Canada's triathletes came to London convinced they were ready to compete and maybe even snatch a medal or two.

It could not have gone worse. Double Olympic medalist Simon Whitfield dropped out early in the bike portion of the men's race after hitting a speed bump and crashing. Top ranked Paula Findlay finished last in the women's race and felt so bad she nearly dropped out twice. Kathy Tremblay also crashed and didn't finish while Kyle Jones and Brent McMahon had some of the worst performances of their careers.

To top if off the team was thrown into turmoil when Whitfield lashed out at Triathlon Canada officials and Findlay's former coach, saying they had not properly helped Findlay recover from an injury. Findlay backed him up, adding to the divisiveness.

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"It has been a very difficult Olympics there's no denying it," said Alan Trivett executive director of Triathlon Canada.

The organization now faces some huge challenges. Whitfield has been the face of the sport since winning gold in Sydney in 2000 and then silver in 2008. But he is 37 years old and said Tuesday that he plans to assess his future in the sport. And there aren't many coming up to take his place.

"The men's side is a little more bleak to be honest with you," said Trivett who added that there are several promising young women in the sport. "We need to find some talent."

Another problem is just keeping up. Triathlon has grown rapidly in recent years and it is attracting better athletes. Britain's Brownlee brothers, Alistair and Jonathan, only took up the sport a few years ago and now they dominate. They finished first and third Tuesday and led for most of the race.

Trivett also has to deal with the fallout from Whitfield's critical comments about Triathlon Canada, Own The Podium and Findlay's former coach Patrick Kelly, who shot back that Whitfield was wrong.

"It certainly complicates matters moving forward because we now have some personality issues that we have to address and his comments were really damming in many ways so we have to address that," Trivett said adding that Whitfield's comments "were out of line".

The first step Trivett said was to meet with athletes and staff and figure out what went wrong. The organization also hopes to hire a high performance director in a few months to help identify promising athletes.

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"We are going to go through a whole process and debrief and we will find, if we had mistakes, we'll find what they were," he said. "I think for the most part we are on the right track."

Finding another Whitfield won't be easy and Trivett said he hopes Whitfield will continue to have a role in the sport despite his recent comments. "He's a great ambassador for the sport," he said. "He has been a terrific icon and I'm hoping to keep him involved, not withstanding the last couple of days."

There is some hope. Sarah-Anne Brault, 22, has shown promise and nearly took a spot on the Olympic team and Jones, 27, who finished 25th in London, will hopefully be ready for the 2016 Games.

But what is most perplexing about London is that all five athletes insisted they arrived in great shape and fully prepared.

Whitfield played down the dismal showing, saying Canada still has talent. "Paula will be back," he said. "The red-headed assassin will be back, you will see her on the top of the podium and this will build her character." Jones too, he said, has the capability.

His own future seems uncertain. He talked about the sacrifices of his wife, Jennie, and two young children and how the hardest part of Tuesday was seeing them afterward. One daughter, 5-year-old Pippa, handed him a clutch of maple leafs as a bouquet.

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"It was hard to see my daughter [Pippa] upset and my wife. I was pretty upset. That's life," he said. "That means it means something."

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