After the success of my first interview with Jeff Symonds the venerable Ben Hobbs (aka The Real Starky) asked me for a short-list of people that I wanted to interview. I sent a list of my top 12 and Simon Whitfield was #1 on that list (well, technically he was #9, but that’s only because I sorted it alphabetically).
Less than 4 hours after I replied to Ben I was exchanging e-mails with Simon Whitfield and setting up this e-terview (this is what amateur triathlon journalism veterans like me call e-mail interviews). Such is the small world of triathlon journalism!
Simon’s accomplishments are too many to list, but there is no doubt that at the top of the list is his gold medal from the inaugural Olympic triathlon in Sydney. Despite crashing on the bike Simon erased a sizable deficit on the run and took over the lead only a few hundred meters from the line with a devastating finishing kick.
In Beijing in 2008 Simon took silver in one of the greatest races in history. Not just triathlon races, but races period. Watching that race with my wife is one of my favorite Olympic moments. I think I was actually on my knees at one point. It is one of the great injustices of sport that a full replay isn’t available (if you know of one one, please provide a link in the comments!). It is tragic, though somehow poetic, that an Olympic career with such spectacular high points ended with an unspectacular crash in 2012.
Simon officially retired from racing in 2013 and is slowly settling into “professional” life in Victoria, BC.
James: Simon Whitfield. Simon “Olympic Hero” Whitfield. Simon “Sprint Finish Assassin” Whitfield! Simon “mother fucking” WHITFIELD! What’s up?
Simon: I like “Sprint Finish Assassin”, it’s the one and only thing I could do better than the Brownlee brothers. What I would have done for a sprint finish head to head with those two, sadly I was never fast enough to set that up. That and surly there’s a video game called “Sprint Finish Assassin”.
James: First, just want to say you are a real hero of mine and I’m really pumped to be doing this!
Simon: Thanks James. Much appreciated. I love what you are doing for triathlon.
James: I have to say that this is the first time I’ve ever had butterflies while writing a Word document. I don’t know if any non-Canadians can understand your stature in this country. You are a true icon. Would it be alright if we started by taking you down a notch? Could you give us a self-deprecating comment or an embarrassing admission of some sort?
Simon: Apparently you missed my yard sale in London, my shit was everywhere.
James: Yeah, that was brutal, and depressing… Alright, let’s take you back up a notch. You are a true fan of triathlon with an appreciation for the history of the sport. Where do you fit in that history?
Simon: Hamish Carter may have a Gold medal that’s just as shiny as mine, he maybe better looking, funnier, smarter and a much better surfer, but mine was the first! That and we don’t have a hole in the ozone layer right above our heads here in Canada. P.S. I love NZL, especially when compared to Australia.
Other then that tidbit, some may remember me as the best wet runner (as Sutto used to say).
James: What is a “wet runner”? Never heard of that before.
Simon: Runners who couldn’t swim or bike so they simply sat at the back of the pack on flat boring courses and waited for the run. Some people can’t adapt, so they mock. I’m cool with that. For me it came down to simply being fully committed, to whatever the format was, shut up and adapt.
Or as Lance said, a Shampoo, blow dry and a run. He’s funny, personally I like the dude.
James: I know you’ve been asked a ton of times about never making the transition to long-course triathlon, so rather than ask you I’ll give you the answer: you never made the transition because you never lost the running speed that’s required to compete in ITU. Fair assessment?
Simon: Exactly. That and I wanted to save my knees for playing with my kids.
James: You own a couple Velofix franchises, which are mobile bike shops that come to the customer and perform bike maintenance. I imagine the logistics and maintenance around those vans is pretty costly. Have you ever considered parking one of your vans, surrounding it with bricks, and calling it a “brick and mortar bike shop”?
Simon: I’m sure Amazon would appreciate another fitting room:
“Kind sir, how may I help you on this fine day”
“I’m looking for a bike and I’m not sure what size I am, could you please help me?”
“Well yes I can fine Sir, here try this stunning bike manufactured in China with a made in Italy sticker.”
“I’m sorry, did you say ‘manufactured in China, made in Italy’?”
“Fine Sir, the bike was made in China, made in Italy sticker was made in Italy, how hard is that to understand?”
“Thanks, it’s my allergies.”
“It appears you need a 56 with a 100mm stem, we can fit that for you too, we have this very very fancy machine that will take all of the thinking out of it.”
Customer pulls out cell phone.
“Are you going to order a 56cm frame with a 100mm stem off ChainReactionWankers.com right in front of me?”
“Right in front of me?”
Bricks and mortar sounds like a great idea, next I’ll open a Blockbuster.
Times, they are a change’n.
James: You have a lot of spare time these days Simon? I mean, shouldn’t you be out inspiring the youth or something, not answering an amateur triathlon journalist’s questions with screenplays?
Simon: This isn’t dad, it’s his daughters, he makes us do this so he can go paddle his stupid stand up board and take photos for instagram. Please send food and spare coins.
James: When you retired in 2013 you said you wanted to be a “t-shirt executive.” If I circulated an anonymous survey among your employees and colleagues, how many do you think would use that phrase to describe you? What other descriptions might be used?
Simon: “Pothead.” I’m kidding, weed is illegal. They might say something like “who?”
I’m never there. I do meditation 3 days a week, Yoga 6, paddle 3, and indoor soccer on Thursdays. Did I mention I scored 11 goals the other day?
How can someone work when you have so many other things to do?
James: Are you ever worried that Leonardo Chacon might show up and take you down from behind with a dirty tackle?
Simon: This is something I can’t joke about. We both had career swims in London and somehow I couldn’t navigate a 3 inch speed bump, 100% my fault. As Macca said so eloquently afterwards, “get some bikes skills”, thanks mate, appreciated that….
James: You work with the Fantan Group, a company that offers facilitation to companies or organizations facings complex problems. On average, how many times a day do hear the words “synergy”, “collaboration”, and “leverage” in your office?
Simon: Way way too many. There is a distinct correlation between the synergistic modalities of leveraging collaborative facilitation towards cooperative and multi-functional disciplines when analyzing the parallel incidents of acute, complex yet simple ideas.
In all seriousness, I work with a guy named Tyl Van Toorn and he’s as smart as Jordan Rapp, with similar social skills (Jordan is like a brother to me, a brother with hilarious and unique social skills). Tyl works through the MG Taylor method to co-design solutions. It’s actually remarkably simple to understand, people are lazy and want easy dumbed down reads… similar to say… this interview.
Which I have thoroughly enjoyed btw.
Did I mention I scored 27 goals at indoor the other day? I even used my left foot at one point.
I never get tired.
White team rules.
I am not a racist, we wear white shirts, they wear… darker shirts.
James: Do you think that finding space for 15 more pro women’s bikes in Kona as a sufficiently complex problem to merit Fantan’s expertise?
Simon: I would love to see 20 Pro men and 20 Pro women in Hawaii. Is 20 more than 15?
See, I solved your complex issue with a simple solution.
James: Are you still working on your stadium triathlon idea? What prompted this concept?
Simon: It’s in storage, simply not economical right now, for me at least. I stand by the concept, in fact I think it would be far more exciting for the general public. As it is, Ironman and the ITU (both of which I watch when I can) are really only watched by those who participate(d) and people who can’t find their remote. Logistics; how many cities can maintain races with the huge footprint required to put on a race? We need a new take on the sport to compliment the other formats, and I believe stadium triathlon fulfills that need.
James: In your expert opinion, how often should a live-blog be updated? Is every 8 minutes too often?
Simon: What is a live blog? Wait, let me guess, is it a lab experiment? Every 8 minutes eh (I just wanted to say “eh”).
James: If the WTC ever hits you up for advice on their Kona coverage could you please tell them that we need more slow-motion shots of bike wheels? Can’t get enough of that shit.
Simon: You forgot the John Tesh music, is that how you spell his name? Wait, who cares.
James: What should triathlon coverage look like in 2025?
Simon: MORE DATA!!!!
James: What will triathlon coverage look like in 2025?
Simon: We will all be under water and soot by then, murky?
James: On your website you say “My goal was always to be the best in the world at something”. If triathlon didn’t work out, could you please list 5 other things you think you could have been the best in the world at.
James: My wife and I are expecting our third child any day now. When we were trying to come up with boy’s names I ixnayed “Simon” because I was worried about the kid being bombarded with “Simon says…” jokes in elementary school. Was this a problem for you growing up?
Simon: Yes, that and kids called me Slimon Shitfield, I ended up getting chased a lot. I hope those kids all ended up in jail with much bigger cell mates.
James: Well, that’s all I have for you Simon. Do you have any questions for me?
Simon: When did you first try cocaine?
James: Hmmmm, I guess I was probably in my late 20s.1
Simon: Interesting. Who is your favorite Canadian?
James: It’s got to be Victoria’s own, Kirsten Sweetland!
Thanks for doing this Simon. I can’t wait to tell my Dad that I shared a Word document with Simon Whitfield!
Simon: Anytime man, anytime.
James: Ok, how about this August?
Simon: Sure, let’s go to LA, drive to Dan’s2 place with gifts and make peace.
Can’t we all just get along?
- Since my mom will probably read this I better clarify that, in keeping with the spirit of the e-terview process, I provided Simon with my answers before he filled in his questions.
- Simon is referring to Dan Empfield, founder of the popular triathlon site slowtwitch.com, who has had a bit of a feud with Ben Hobbs and TRSTriathlon.com recently.
Follow Simon on twitter.
Featured image courtesy of Delly Carr and ITU. Other photos were taken from Simon’s instagram account with his permission.
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