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Monday, September 18, 2000

Whitfield: After the cheers

'Win. Celebrate. Cry. Cry some more. See friends. Hug my training partner ...'


 SYDNEY -- When you dream the Olympic dream you only dream it until the moment you hit the finish line or maybe the moment when you hear the anthem and have the medal hung around your neck.

 You never dream what happens next.

 Nobody makes movies about that part of it. the ending is always when you are standing on top of the world with tears in your eyes.

 Roll credits.

 But it isn't 'The End.' It's a beginning.

 Five hours is long enough to figure it out. Your life just changed. It's also long enough to find out if it's going to change you.

 It won't.

 Not for Simon Whitfield.

 There is every evidence the young man who became the first Olympic gold medalist in the men's triathlon and Canada's first Olympic gold medalist of the millenium is going to stay the same.

 The young man most competitors claim is the most popular competitor on the entire triathlon circuit was a study in the hours immediately after he made his name and won his fame.

 "I always thought about the finish line,'' he said. I never thought through the rest of it.''

 Only three Canadian journalists were on the property to witness his win. Five hours after the race they took him to the main press centre to introduce him to the rest of them.

 GOLDEN BOY

 When I last left Whitfield, it was his coach Barrie Shepley who was bawling as he hugged Whitfield when the new born golden boy came through the mixed zone after winning the race.

 Whitfield looked calm, cool and collected. Not long later and he was a mess, crying into his flowers as they raised the flag and played the anthem.

 What happened?

 "My goal here was to hear the anthem. When that flag went up I was so proud to be Canadian and see that flag raised to the top of the world. I heard the anthem and it just cracked me.''

 He lost it. He was exactly the way you wanted him to be as he experienced the moment he desperately wanted to share with Canadians.

 Whitfield, who has dual citizenship and could have chosen to compete for Australia, we all found out, is about as Canadian as a kid can get. His love of country showed through as much as his personality and character.

 "It's been a great five hours,'' said the young man who calls Victoria, B.C., home.

 "The Prime Minister called ...''

 I asked him to walk us through the first five hours of the rest of his life.

 "Lemme see. Win. Celebrate. Cry. Cry some more. See friends. Hug my training partner. Go through doping control. First guys through doping control.

 '`Ran my hand under a tap. Medal-winners press conference.

 '`Saw some friends from when I went to Knotts School here when I lived in Sydney ... In the car ride over here I said it to myself. `You're the Olympic champion. I can't believe it.''

 Somebody said he forgot to mention the part about kissing the podium.

 "It was gold,'' he said.

 He talked about Wayne Gretzky being his idol.

 "Wayne was always my hero because he was so classy,'' said this classy 25-year-old.

 He talked about his dad telling him "I'm proud of you, Simon'' after he'd won and what that meant.

 When he left the media another 50 questions later, Whitfield went to the athletes village where he'd get a feel for what he did for this Canadian Olympic Team which, until he had his moment, had come up empty at every event.

 At the village he couldn't move 10 feet without being congratulated.

 "I finally got to take a shower,'' he said.

 He also realized he hadn't had a thing to eat.

 He and his coach "grabbed about eight Bic Macs'' at the village dining hall and headed for their next stop.

 Eight hours after he'd won he visited Canada Olympic House where his dad and mom, Jeff and Linda, and about 300 Canadian fans showed up to celebrate his gold and watch Curtis Myden swim to silver while he was there.

 "We had a bottle of champagne which we didn't have a chance to open until then,'' said coach Shepley.

 "He's having his picture taken every time he turns around and signing autographs for everybody he meets and is still telling himself, 'I'm the Olympic champion.' In the car as we went from one place to another he was putting his bike back together.

 '`He just won the Olympic gold medal. I don't think he's going to go out for a bike ride. You can tell he's not going to change.''

 What he did after that, I'm not sure. But he knows what he wants to do for the rest of the Olympics.

 GETTING TICKETS

 "I'm going to use this to get as many tickets as I can to as many Canadian events as I can to see the rest of the Canadians do well."

 And he knows what he wants to do when he gets home.

 "I want to do the schools,'' he said.

 "I want to take the medal to show the kids and tell them to participate in sport and be good people."

 Canada's first gold medal winner of these Olympics, you get the idea, is good people.