Canada’s triathlon team is capable of producing an Olympic medal in London.
The question is, who can win it?
There’s Olympic gold and silver medallist Simon Whitfield, but what does the 37-year-old have left in the tank for his fourth Games?
There’s Paula Findlay, the world’s fastest-rising star in the sport until she was tripped up by a hip injury. She says the Olympic triathlon might be her first race this year.
If not those two, Brent McMahon, Kyle Jones and Kathy Tremblay made it to the podium of International Triathlon Union races over the last year, but are considered dark horses for an Olympic medal.
Jones, from Oakville, Ont., and Victoria’s McMahon are ranked 14th and 19th respectively in the men’s world rankings, while Montreal’s Tremblay is No. 20 among women.
Whitfield, from Kingston, Ont., and Edmonton’s Findlay were pre-selected to the Canadian team last November. McMahon, Jones and Tremblay were added Tuesday by Triathlon Canada.
The women compete in the 1.5-kilometre swim, 40-kilometre bike and 10-kilometre run in and around Hyde Park on Aug. 4, followed by the men’s race Aug. 7.
Canada will have a full men’s team of three athletes, but only qualified two for the women’s race.
Whitfield was an unknown when he won gold in Sydney in 2000. Narrowly losing a footrace to Germany’s Jan Frodeno and taking silver in Beijing was an electrifying moment of the 2008 Games.
Whitfield posted disappointing results by his standards post-Beijing. He put himself in the hands of coach Jon Brown, a former British marathoner who twice finished fourth at the Olympics.
Whitfield felt his boldness returning over the last 12 months while training with Brown in Victoria.
“Trusting in Jon’s guidance has given me a renewed confidence,” Whitfield said Tuesday in a conference call introducing the team.
“I’ve got my smirk back, my wife said the other day. For me, it’s all about preparation, but it’s also about getting that smirk back.”
Whitfield has spent the past two weeks in Ontario training with Canadian marathoners Reid Coolsaet and Eric Gillis, who are both bound for London as well.
Findlay’s medal prospects are murky. Ranked No. 1 in the world early last year, a hip injury made her shut down her 2011 season down early.
The 23-year-old is training and babying her hip with intensive physiotherapy. Findlay currently has no races scheduled prior to London.
“Right now, it’s a day-to-day management thing,” Findlay said. “I can run pain-free, but I’m not out of the woods.
“I’m not sure if I’m going to race before London, which is not ideal, but it’s sort of the way things have played out. I don’t have a lot of time left. I can do some good quality training sessions, but I think doing a race at this point might be a little unrealistic.”
Unlike 2008, when Colin Jenkins was named to the men’s team as Whitfield’s domestique, the three men will race for the podium with none in a subservient role to another.
The trio plans to work together on the bike leg to improve their positions, however. Drafting is allowed, so they can work in concert to chase down the competitors who come out of the water in the lead.
“We definitely have a good team dynamic. It’s not to one specific individual,” Whitfield said. “That’s our best chance in this scenario.
“We all understand how the race will likely unfold with a group trying to make a breakaway out of the water. The way Kyle, Brent and I ride, the three of us will work together to close that gap.”
Off the bike, however, it’s a free-for-all.
Whitfield, Jones and Tremblay are scheduled to race a World Cup in Edmonton on July 8.
Jones was fourth in Edmonton last year and beat Whitfield in sixth for the first time in his career. Whitfield has long touted Jones as his heir-apparent.
Jones was an alternate on the men’s team in Beijing, so making the team for London was a significant step in the 27-year-old’s career.
“I still feel it’s only halfway there, half the battle and the second part of this is having a great performance at the Games,” Jones said. “That’s what the next eight weeks is all about, making sure I do everything I can to have the best possible performance.”
McMahon travelled a hard road to get back on the Olympic team. He was injured heading into the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, and finished 39th.
He didn’t make the 2008 squad and a recent knee injury forced the 31-year-old to take 18 months off from the sport.
He’s chased qualification points around the world over the last year to book a ticket to London. McMahon won his first World Cup race last summer in Hungary.
“Through my injury, one thing I gained from it is renewed passion for what I love to do and that’s triathlon,” McMahon said. “That sort of re-kindles the flame to put the effort back in and do everything I had to do to get back to the Olympic Games again.”
Tremblay will also race in her second Olympics after finishing 31st in Beijing. The 29-year-old won the first World Cup race of her career in April, which helped launch her onto the Olympic squad.
“She was absolutely driven to this moment,” said Triathlon Canada executive director Alan Trivett. “She’s walked her talk.
“She said there was no Plan B and I fully believed her. She was willing to do whatever it took, even if that meant calling me and begging me to continue supporting her.”
Trivett wouldn’t be pinned down on a hard medal target for the triathletes. But in saying he wants to contribute to the overall Canadian team’s goal of finishing among the top 12 countries, the translation is winning a medal.
“Each athlete . . . we’ve selected to our team is in a position to achieve that goal for us,” Trivett said.