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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Whitfield Gets Kicks With a Sprint to Gold

September 17, 2000|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — Simon Whitfield faced a difficult choice.

As he raced toward the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House today in the final 200 meters of the men's triathlon, he could have chosen to maintain his pace and win a silver medal. It certainly would have been no shame.

Yet, the 25-year-old Canadian knew he would be cheating himself and everyone who had helped him get this far if he didn't try for one last, late spurt.

"The Olympics is so spectacular," said Whitfield, who had already proven his resilience by recovering from a near crash on the last lap of the 24.8-mile bike ride. "It's easy to be happy with second. I had to convince myself it wasn't over yet. I kept telling myself, 'You gotta want it.' "

Whitfield, who attended boarding school in Sydney for four years and credited his Aussie mates for honing his competitiveness, wanted it enough to sprint past Germany's Stephan Vuckovic and become the surprise winner of the first Olympic men's triathlon.

In a stirring finish, Whitfield surged past Vuckovic to win Canada's first medal of the Games in 1 hour 48 minutes 24.02 seconds, including a blistering 30:53.73 in the 6.2-mile run. Vuckovic was 13.56 seconds behind, at 1:48:37.58, and Jan Rehula of the Czech Republic, who trains in Sydney, won the bronze in 1:48:46.64. Dmitriy Gaag of Kazakhstan was fourth, 39.55 seconds behind Whitfield.

"Five hundred meters in front of the finish, I saw him behind me and I said, 'It's finished. Goodbye,' " Vuckovic said. "But Simon is a good friend, and to lose to a friend is not so bad."

Whitfield was 27th after the nearly mile-long swim and 24th after making the transition from the grueling bike race to the 10k run. Olivier Marceau of France, who led after the bike ride, was passed by Vuckovic on the second lap of the run and faded to seventh. Vuckovic and Rehula had the second- and third-best 10k times, respectively.

"I ran the whole run thinking, 'Where are they? They must be coming,' " Whitfield said. "We were running fast but it didn't feel crazy."

Whitfield could have represented Australia because his father, Geoff, is Australian, and his 96-year-old grandmother lives in Sydney. But Australia's triathlon team was considered deep, even though its top result was a sixth-place finish by Miles Stewart. Whitfield, though somewhat torn, chose to represent Canada--and he cried at the sound of "O Canada."

"I've been saying for months, 'I want to hear my anthem,' and I heard it and just cracked," he said. "I'm deeply proud of being Canadian, but part of my heart is Australian."

The Americans weren't a factor. Hunter Kemper of Orlando, Fla., who won the Olympic trials, finished 17th, in 1:50:05.56. Ryan Bolton of Gillette, Wyo., was 25th, in 1:50:52.95, and Nick Radkewich was 40th among the 48 finishers in 1:53:44.63.

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