A lot has changed since Simon Whitfield arrived back from Sydney to a jammed Victoria International Airport in 2000, with his Olympic triathlon gold medal around his neck, and to the chants of “Simon, Simon, Simon . . .” reverberating off the walls.
Whitfield, inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame on Wednesday with the Class of 2019, is now content with sport and adulation at a much more modest level.
Yet, it is just as gratifying in its own way. Whitfield has traded Olympic medals for the Tweed Cup, the annual Vancouver Island Soccer League Over-35 B League Bays United intra-squad game between the green and white teams.
“The Tweed Cup is our team tradition and it was just held last week. I’m loving every minute of masters soccer and being around the guys, and I can’t wait to get back to it for our game this weekend,” said Whitfield, following the induction ceremony in Toronto.
“I got called up to the Bays United VISL Div. 2 and I was so jacked. ‘Called up’ is such a cool couple of words for any athlete to hear. I thought they were watching and had scouted me in Over-35. But they were short of players and just needed to fill out the lineup.”
That summed up Whitfield’s noted sense of self-deprecating humour.
He is also now a paddle-board guide out of Ocean Rivers Sports in Oak Bay and takes groups out all over the Island.
“It brings me such great joy to be outdoors in open space and on the water,” he said. “I tell all my paddle-boarders: ‘I promise I will get you back home.’ ”
Whitfield’s love of the outdoors informed his induction speech as he touched on the environment and urged more effective use of natural resources.
The ceremony Wednesday took place at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto.
“This is the pinnacle for Canadian Olympic athletes,” said Whitfield. “It’s surreal, especially when you see the video tribute.”
This was Whitfield’s sixth Hall of Fame induction. He was enshrined into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2017, the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Victoria Sports Hall of Fame in 2016. Whitfield has also been inducted into the Triathlon Canada and International Triathlon Union Halls of Fame.
“I don’t rank them,” he said.
“They are all important to me in different ways in my life.”
Also enshrined with Whitfield in the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame Class of 2019 Wednesday was two-time Olympic silver medallist Alexandre Despatie, a diver who competed and trained often at Saanich Commonwealth Place, and fellow Quebecers Christine Girard, two-time Olympic medallist weightlifter, and Émilie Heymans, four-time Olympic-medallist diver.
Also in the Class is the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games gold-medallist women’s ice hockey team and the 2012 London Summer Games bronze-medallist women’s soccer team, which included Emily Zurrer of Chemainus. The soccer squad became the first Canadian team to win a medal at the Summer Olympics in a team sport since Victoria players Doug Peden and Art and Chuck Chapman won basketball silver at Berlin in 1936.
Also inducted Wednesday were Hiroshi Nakamura, who coached Canada in judo at five Summer Olympics, the late 2010 Vancouver Winter Games builder Jack Poole, and the late sports writer Randy Starkman.
Inductees will be commemorated with murals painted in their honour that will appear in their respective home communities across Canada. Whitfield’s mural will be painted at the Triathlon Canada national training centre headquarters at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
Whitfield came to Victoria in 1997 at the time when many of the nation’s top triathletes were arriving here to live and train, including eventual Ironman Hawaii world championship multi-champions Peter Reid and Lori Bowden.
Little known off the Island, Whitfield broke through for a spectacularly dramatic gold medal in the shadow of the Opera House when triathlon made its Olympic debut at Sydney in 2000. He followed up with gold at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games and silver in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
A rare four-time Olympian, Whitfield was twice the Canadian flagbearer — in the closing ceremony at Sydney 2000 and in the opening ceremony at London 2012.