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Simon Whitfield Comes To Defence Of Teammate Paula Findlay At London Games

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SIMON WHITFIELD
Simon Whitfield is standing up for teammate Paula Findlay at the Olympics. | CP

LONDON - Simon Whitfield was still burning a day after watching Paula Findlay's tearful apology as she finished last in the Olympic women's triathlon.

The four-time Olympian criticized the team tasked with getting Findlay to the start line, saying his teammate's preparation for London was "completely mismanaged."

Findlay was a gold-medal favourite until just over a year ago when the Edmonton native suffered a hip injury. When she finished 52nd on Saturday, the 23-year-old's tears were over months of frustration and not just the race.

Whitfield is the elder statesman on Canada's triathlon team as a four-time Olympian and winner of gold in 2000 and silver in 2008.

The 37-year-old spoke with emotion prior to a swim session Sunday in London, but also from his considerable experience as an elite athlete. He races Tuesday and risks the wrath of Triathlon Canada, yet felt compelled to defend Findlay.

"I'm willing to stand up and say 'What happened was wrong,'" Whitfield said. "I do think the people who have jumped ship on her should be held accountable."

He chastised the management of Findlay's training program around her injury, the nature of which was a mystery until an MRI in late March finally revealed a torn labrum in her hip. At that point, Findlay's options were surgery or babying her hip until the Games.

Whitfield didn't criticize the tardy diagnosis. He felt Findlay's workouts were not appropriate to her situation.

"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. You come back and do 30-minute runs, then 45-minute runs, then 50-minute runs.

"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.

"She's not a wind-up toy that you just send off."

Findlay won six world championship series races, including one on the Olympic course in Hyde Park, over the 2010 and 2011 seasons. She was ranked No. 1 in the world before her injury in June 2011.

Prior to Saturday's race, she hadn't competed in an international field since Sept. 9 in Beijing. Findlay didn't finish that race and subsequently pulled out of the Pan American Games.

Triathlon Canada named her to the Olympic team in November. The hope was she could deal with her injury and get back training instead of chasing qualification points in multiple races. But Findlay didn't regain her form in time for the Games.

Whitfield said Findlay's former coach Patrick Kelly, Own The Podium high-performance triathlon adviser Debbie Muir and sport scientist Dr. Dave Smith out of the Canadian Sport Centre Calgary must share in the responsibility.

"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 declared. "Have the courage to say 'Yesterday's result is on me.'"

Dr. Smith is one of the country's leading sports physiologists. The blood work he performed on speedskater Cindy Klassen at the 2006 Winter Games, for example, was considered an integral part of Klassen's five-medal performance.

Smith didn't immediately respond to an e-mail from The Canadian Press.

Findlay began training with Whitfield and his coach Jon Brown just a few weeks ago, when she and Kelly dissolved their partnership.

Whitfield said Kelly was "inexperienced" and "in over his head." When contacted by The Canadian Press, Kelly referred questions to Triathlon Canada president and high-performance director Alan Trivett.

Muir was not made available for comment. OTP chief executive officer Anne Merklinger says Findlay's situation will be addressed at a later date.

"At this point, we want to really continue to really focus on the team's performance here," she said. "Given the dialogue that's unfolded over the last 24 hours, as OTP will do with every sport organization with whom we partner, we will have a full review and evaluation how the quadrennial went and how we can improve going forward."

While Trivett was concerned Whitfield's comments could be a distraction for Canada's other two male triathletes, Brent McMahon and Kyle Jones, he conceded mistakes were made in handling Findlay's situation.

"I want everyone to wear it, including me," he said. "Through this period of time, since June of 2011, we've struggled to get Paula into the top mode she was in the first part of 2011.

"Anywhere along the road, we could have made a different decision or done something differently. At the time, with the information that we had, we felt we were doing the right thing and that includes all of us from her coach to myself as the acting high performance director to Debbie Muir at Own The Podium to Dr. Dave Smith, who was our consultant on the physiology side through the University of Calgary.

"Do they have to stand up and take responsibility as I am today? Yes. We're all in this together and we made decisions as a team. Do I feel they abandoned her? No, I don't."

Trivett said Findlay was "a terrible patient" in that she wouldn't back off of training to heal and had setbacks.

"Rest and recovery and taking time off and managing injuries was not part of her vocabulary," he said.

Whitfield didn't buy that.

"They said 'She's difficult, she's really hard to work with,'" he said. "She's the same person they celebrated two years ago."

Where is Findlay in all this?

"I trust Simon 100 per cent and I'm fine with him saying that," she said. "I feel really lucky to have him in my corner.

"I think it's an OK thing to be public because people don't know exactly what I went through. They think it's just a hip injury."

Findlay also revealed that an unsuccessful appeal had been launched to replace her on the Olympic team by alternate Sarah-Anne Brault, who beat Findlay at last year's Canadian championship.

"There's been so many things that have gone wrong and obstacles," Findlay said. "To be on the start line, when I think about that, is a victory in itself."

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