11/15/2012 07:13 EST | Updated 01/15/2013 05:12 EST

Olympic champ Simon Whitfield switching gears in triathlon, eyes up Ironman

Olympic champion triathlete Simon Whitfield is entering a new stage in his life, but says he's not done racing.

Whitfield declined to join the Canadian team for the first time in 17 years, saying racing longer distances such as Ironman will allow him to train close to home and his family in Victoria.

"My life needs to be much more balanced around our family," Whitfield said from Victoria this week.

Preparation for his fourth Olympic Games this summer took him away from wife Jennie and daughters Pippa and Evelyn for weeks of training and racing.

"With Pippa in kindergarten, I don't want to be absentee," Whitfield said. "I was absent this year. That's the commitment Jennie and I made.

"It was with the knowledge that was the last time we'd make that kind of commitment to being away that much."

Triathlon Canada says Whitfield is welcome to return to the national team, but won't reserve a spot for the Olympic gold and silver medallist.

If the 37-year-old wants to race for Canada again in World Cups, world championships or Olympic Games, he'll have to earn it racing full time.

Whitfield believes that's the way it should be.

"They've said the door is always open, but if you're going to be on the national team, you've got to really be on the national team and I think that's the way to do it," Whitfield said.

"I've been calling for this for years and it's great that they're doing this. It's TriCan making that shift to a full commitment of being all-in."

Whitfield was highly critical of the handling of Olympic teammate Paula Findlay at the Summer Olympics in London. He felt she was failed by her coach and support staff during her preparation

He says that has nothing to do with his decision to step away from representing Triathlon Canada on the international stage in 2013.

Whitfield appreciates how gracious the organization has been in his decision.

"Triathlon Canada has been part of my life since 1995," he said. "I have a lot of friends there."

Whitfield's life is in transition. He's planning to host a multi-event endurance festival of running and paddling in Barrie, Ont., next June.

He has projects in mind to make triathlon less expensive and more accessible.

Whitfield says he'd love to do mass-start running events like the Vancouver Sun Run or the Toronto Sporting Life 10k, but there will also be cutthroat racing in his future.

"There will be something highly competitive in there because I can't operate otherwise," Whitfield said.

An Olympic-distance triathlon is a 1.5-kilometre swim, 40-kilometre bike and 10k run.

Whitfield won gold in 2000 when the sport made its Olympic debut and silver in 2008.

The Kingston, Ont., athlete says the Ironman and its 3.8 kilometre swim, 180-kilometre bike and marathon appeals to him.

Whitfield is considering racing one of three Ironman-distance events in Canada in 2013, which will be in Whistler and Penticton, B.C., and Mont-Tremblant, Que.

Triathletes often switch from one triathlon distance to the other, but Whitfield knows the Ironman requires completely different training and race strategy than Olympic distance.

"I might have said 10 years ago I could just jump right across," Whitfield said. "Now, I'm going to do it with the utmost respect and caution.

"I was suited to Olympic distance and shorter distances. We'll see if I can handle the distance training, the solo training, the discipline you have to have training solo."

The long, solitary hours of Ironman training are now a better fit in his life than Olympic distance, which required him to be part of a fast group of athletes pushing each other to achieve higher speeds.

The group's schedule once dictated his life.

"Now, my day will operate around when the kids are at school," Whitfield explained. "I'll train every minute of the day the kids are at school and then on the weekends I'll do a little bit of training."

Whitfield's fourth Olympic Games ended abruptly when he and his bike cartwheeled off a speed bump in London. He broke his collarbone and required stitches in his toe.

"I healed up super, super quick and then I went and broke my hand mountain biking," Whitfield said.

"I have to laugh that after so many years of no injuries and then in a three-month span I go flipping over a speed bump and smacking into a tree.

"Other than that, I'm good. I'm still the king of the bouncy castle with my kids, broken hand and all."