Whitfield runs to the rescue for Canada

CanWest News Service
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OLYMPICS

Is the cavalry on the way, bearing oars and goggles instead of rifles and swords?

Increasingly antsy Canadian sports fans certainly hope so.

With the rowing finals set for Saturday and Sunday, and with triathlete Simon Whitfield arriving in Beijing on Thursday, there is a glimmer of hope these 2008 Summer Olympics will take a turn for the better for Canada.

Whitfield indicated he believes the national Road to Excellence funding for summer sports was put in too late for Beijing. He's been watching on TV and said he knows his Canadian Olympic teammates have been trying their best.

Canadian triathlete Simon Whitfield says goodbye to his wife Jennie and 13-month-old daughter Pippa at the Victoria, B.C., International airport before leaving for the Olympic Games in Beijing. - Photo by Canwest News Service

Beijing - Is the cavalry on the way, bearing oars and goggles instead of rifles and swords?

Increasingly antsy Canadian sports fans certainly hope so.

With the rowing finals set for Saturday and Sunday, and with triathlete Simon Whitfield arriving in Beijing on Thursday, there is a glimmer of hope these 2008 Summer Olympics will take a turn for the better for Canada.

Whitfield indicated he believes the national Road to Excellence funding for summer sports was put in too late for Beijing. He's been watching on TV and said he knows his Canadian Olympic teammates have been trying their best.

"You can say you tried your best, and people say your best isn't good enough. Just because last year we put some money into sport, doesn't mean it's going to instantly turn into medals," Whitfield said in Victoria on Wednesday prior to boarding a plane for Beijing.

Whitfield, the 2000 Sydney Summer Games gold medallist, says he keeps sport in perspective, regardless.

"Georgia's getting bombed out, and we're arguing about a medal count," he said.

Yet don't be fooled. Whitfield's casual demeanour belies a fierce competitive spirit.

"Simon is not coming here for the T-shirt," said former national triathlon team coach Barrie Shepley, who will provide the call for CBC's coverage of the Olympic women's triathlon Monday and men's race Tuesday.

"I've never seen this kind of spunk in Simon since 2000. When you ask the other Olympic competitors who they most fear here in Beijing, Simon's name is always mentioned among two or three others. He's got everything going for him, only now the depth of the field is incredible."

Although there is growing pressure on the Week 2 Canadian Olympians, Shepley said that should be eased by weekend results.

"With the rowers and divers we have upcoming over the next few days, I can't believe Canada will still be skunked in the medals table by the time the triathlon races roll around Monday and Tuesday," said Shepley, as he scouted the rain-drenched Olympic rowing facility at Shunyi.

Shepley said the situation is similar to Sydney 2000, the Summer Olympics in which Whitfield ran to glory in the shadow of the famed Opera House to ignite the overall Canadian team.

"There was the same angst until we final got our first gold medal that year, through Simon, and then came golds by (wrestler) Daniel Igali and (tennis doubles) Daniel Nestor and Sebastian Lareau almost equally the same number of days apart," he said.

"It'll come."

Whatever happens on the podium here, Canadian fans hope it happens soon.

Organizations: CBC, Simon's, Week 2 Canadian Olympians Opera House

Geographic location: Beijing, Canada, Victoria Sydney Georgia Shunyi

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