CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 12. . . .November 20, 2009
Simon Says Gold: Simon Whitfield's Pursuit of Athletic Excellence.
Simon Whitfield with Cleve Dheenshaw.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2009.
128 pp., pbk, $14.00.
Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.
Whitfield, Simon, 1975 - Juvenile literature.
Athletes-Canada-Bibography - Juvenile literature.
Thriathlon -Juvenile literature.
Review by Gillian Richardson.
The graduation ceremonies for the Knox School Class of 1994 were held on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. A year earlier, I had joined thousands of others there in celebration as we watched on a jumbo screen as International Olympic committee then-President Juan Antonio Samaranch opened an envelope and announced, “The 2000 Olympic Summer Games have been awarded to the city of …Sydney.” I didn’t hear much more after that as the massive throng erupted. Only later would we learn the vote was razor thin, 45-43, for Sydney over Beijing on the last ballot.
Triathlon had been voted into the Summer Olympics earlier and was set to join the Games roster of sports in 2000. I sat on the steps of the Opera House that day, watching the wild celebratory scenes unfold, and then I said to myself, “Okay, triathlon is going to be my job.”
Little could I have imagined then the Olympian fate which awaited me at the finish line—right there directly by the steps of the Sydney Opera House—in six years’ time.
If you’ve ever marvelled at the drive and dedication of today’s young athletes as they prepare years in advance to qualify for an Olympic event, this autobiography will show you how the dynamic process is life-altering. From elementary school age, Canadian Simon Whitfield pursued his passion for sport into adolescence when triathlon was in its infancy, opting to complete his high school education at his dad’s Australian school which exacted demanding sports achievements. He climbed the ladder to success in world-class events leading up to the Summer Games in Sydney in 2000 where he took the first ever Gold Medal in Olympic Men’s Triathlon at the age of 25. On top of the world, Simon soon learned what it would take to stay there.
The first chapter cuts right to the chase for Gold, with a detailed account of the Sydney win and its impact on this young Canadian as he blew past the well-known and accomplished racing competitors he had looked up to and admired. In awe of his own achievement, Simon then takes the reader back to his childhood, through school and on to the fateful Athens Games in 2004. The challenge of living up to Sydney proved too great this time, and Simon was unable to meet the pressure as “defending champ.” But haunted and humiliated, having gone “from Olympic hero to Olympic also-ran,” he began the long come-back trial, including overcoming serious injury, that culminated in winning Silver at Beijing in 2008. Now he has his sights set on the next Summer Games, those to be held in London in 2012.
The author has captured Whitfield’s candour and an engaging sense of humour in a straightforward, balanced writing style that brings this sports hero to the accessible level of the guy next door. The athlete openly shares what he has learned from his racing career, including his doubts and fears. In his reflections about the highs and lows he’s experienced, two lessons stand out for him: that the ability to recover from the hardest training is the key to excellence, and that enjoyment of the journey as you put out maximum effort is the greatest reward. He credits his first family (now including wife and young daughter) as well as his athletic family and friends for their unwavering support, and expresses the motivation he’s gained from musical inspiration and personal philosophies. Some of these people share their observations of Simon in action. The book is generously illustrated with photos, many from Whitfield’s personal family collection. “Simon’s Scrapbook” pages show him with honesty as an ordinary guy who has made extraordinary achievements that only a few will match. Sidebars offer some historical detail and statistics about Triathlon. An extensive Index makes this a good source for research.
For any aspiring young athlete feeding on the climate of high excitement at the approaching 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Simon’s story will be inspirational.
Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in BC.
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