12/04/2012 05:44 EST | Updated 02/03/2013 05:12 EST

Whitfield hopes younger Canadian triathletes step up in coming years

TORONTO - Simon Whitfield isn't totally closing the door on making one last Olympic hurrah at the Rio Games in 2016.

He's hoping Canadian triathletes do that for him.

Whitfield wants to see the younger generation of athletes step up in the coming years so that he won't have to make a decision on whether to compete at a fifth Olympic Games.

"Don't leave the door open," Whitfield said Tuesday. "Make it impossible for me to come back, by being so good that there's no opportunity."

Whitfield recently declined to join the national team for the first time in 17 years. He's planning to focus on racing longer distances, which will allow him to train close to home and his family in Victoria.

Triathlon Canada has said Whitfield is welcome to return to the national team, but won't reserve a spot for the two-time Olympic medallist. If he wants to race for Canada again at top international events, he'll have to earn it racing full time.

Whitfield is confident that younger triathletes like Kyle Jones of Oakville, Ont., and Andrew Yorke of Caledon East, Ont., will continue their progression over the next few seasons. He's hoping the next generation sees the possibility of his return as a positive challenge, a sentiment echoed by national team coach Barrie Shepley.

"It's good to hear the legend say, 'I'm going to take your food away if you don't eat it,'" Shepley said.

Whitfield, Shepley and paratriathlete Grant Darby were on hand at a mid-town elementary school Tuesday for the launch of "Tri This," a recruitment initiative from Triathlon Canada. The goal is to attract athletes to the sport with strong backgrounds in running and swimming who have the desire to become world-class triathletes.

Whitfield has won every major triathlon title and is one of the most successful athletes in the sport's history. He has recorded 14 World Cup victories and eight top-10 finishes at the world championships.

He also won gold at the 2000 Sydney Games and added silver eight years later in Beijing.

However, Whitfield's fourth Olympic Games ended abruptly last summer when he crashed after hitting a speed bump in London. He broke his collarbone and required stitches in his toe.

The 37-year-old joked about the fall while talking to students in the school's gymnasium. One youngster asked Whitfield how he manages to stay on his bike during a race.

"Sometimes I have trouble staying on my bike, there should be no speed bumps on courses," a smiling Whitfield said to some laughs from the crowd.

Whitfield said he's getting back into training and already has a few endurance events circled on his 2013 calendar. He also appears to be over the disappointment of his London experience.

"Certainly there were times where I laid back and thought, 'Are you kidding? That happened?'" he said. "But now I get to make my speed bump jokes. It's the easiest joke in the world."

Whitfield is planning to host a multi-event endurance festival of running and paddling in Barrie, Ont., next June. He also has projects in mind to make triathlon less expensive and more accessible.

Whitfield is also keen to help foster the sport's growth when he has the opportunity.

“It typically takes nearly one decade to develop a youngster at the grassroots level into an elite triathlete," he said.

"It is a long journey with many potential roadblocks. It is our goal through 'Tri This' to nurture dedicated athletes who already have a strong headstart in one or two of the three disciplines of our unique sport to increase the breadth and depth of our national program."

Over the next two years, Triathlon Canada will also roll out a recruitment and paratriathlon talent identification program designed to encourage more athletes with a disability to discover and develop in the sport, which will make its Paralympic debut in 2016.