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17 Sep 2000
Sydney 2000

Whitfield rises to the occasion in triathlon debut

Triathlon made its official Olympic debut in Sydney and proved an instant hit. The format - a 1,500m open water swim, followed by a 40km cycle ride and a 10,000m run – made for a tough, and exhilarating contest.

Predicting a winner was hard, since none of the participants had ever been exposed to the peculiar demands of the Olympic stage. And the men’s competition threw up a complete surprise in the form of Canada’s Simon Whitfield.

Whitfield was ranked only 13th in the world and had not won a triathlon in a year. Yet while some of his rivals appeared overawed by the occasion, Whitfield was inspired, and he seemed to draw energy and confidence from the scale of the event.

Confident that he was the fastest runner in the field, Whitfield expected to come into his own towards the end of the triathlon. So his tactics were to stay in touch during the swimming and cycling, and then try to use his running speed to catch the leaders.

Australia’s Craig Walton led after the swim but quickly faded after the switch to bikes, when South Africa's Conrad Stoltz and French world champion Olivier Marceau took over at the front. They finished the cycling section a minute clear of the field, with Whitfield back in 24th place. However, neither Stoltz nor Marceau were strong enough runners to maintain their place at the front. Stoltz dropped back quickly, while Marceau was overtaken by Germany's Stephan Vuckovic after 6km.

Whitfield was still closing the gap and he caught the German with about a kilometre to go. Vuckovic's response was to open up a gap once more, only for the Canadian to come back at him again. The two men were using every bit of energy in their body, but with 200m left it was Whitfield who sprinted clear, finally crossing the line 12 seconds clear.

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