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National triathlon centre open for business in Victoria

Simon Whitfield, who ushered in the era of the triathlon boom in Canada when he won the inaugural men’s Olympic race at Sydney 2000, looked around Wednesday and said: “The little baby has grown up.
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Victoria triathlete Matt Sharpe helps open the national triathlon centre at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on Wednesday.

Simon Whitfield, who ushered in the era of the triathlon boom in Canada when he won the inaugural men’s Olympic race at Sydney 2000, looked around Wednesday and said: “The little baby has grown up.”

Whitfield, Olympic triathlon coach Jono Hall, Paralympic coach Carolyn Murray, Olympic rowing great Silken Laumann, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and several current and future national team athletes were among those on hand to open the new Triathlon Canada national performance centre to be headquartered in Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

“Victoria is synonymous with triathlon and has been since the sport’s inception,” said Helps.

The city is providing long-term leasing for office and training space, including a 1,000-square-foot strength and conditioning gym, which is separate from that of the Victoria Royals hockey team.

The deal has long been in the works but Wednesday made it official that Triathlon Canada, under CEO Kim Van Bruggen, will join Elk Lake-based Rowing Canada and Langford-based Rugby Canada in having their full national headquarters and training centres based on the Lower Island. Athletics Canada at the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence track, Cycling Canada on Bear Mountain and Swimming Canada at Saanich Commonwealth Place also have major national training centres based in Greater Victoria with Tennis Canada and Golf Canada exploring further ties.

All the national team athletes also have access to the training, gym and sport medicine facilities available through Canadian Sports Institute Pacific-Victoria and PISE, located on the Camosun College Interurban campus.

“We have a culture of excellence here from rowing and swimming to cycling and track and field . . . all the athletes from the different sports here push each other but also lean on each other,” said national-team triathlete Matt Sharpe, a native of Campbell River.

This has made national training centres, and national-team athletes, a business story along with a sports story in Greater Victoria. The ripple effects are felt across the community in many ways.

“This is very inspiring, for young people taking their first swim lessons at Crystal Pool, to be thinking maybe one day I can be an Olympic swimmer or triathlete,” said Helps.

Sharpe concurred, saying he was inspired as a kid watching the likes of Island triathlon greats Whitfield, Peter Reid, Lori Bowden and Brent McMahon perform and wanted to follow in their footsteps.

“It made me think that was achievable,” said the 2012 Canadian U-23 champion and 2010 Canadian junior champion, who competed in the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, and has targeted the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“I want kids watching us on the trails, roads and pools of the region to think this is a real and tangible goal for them, too,” added Sharpe, who moved down-Island as a teen and graduated from Claremont Secondary.

Another key player in the project is the newly branded 94 Forward, the former PacificSport, which handles the legacy fund from the 1994 Commonwealth Games. The 94 Forward organization has provided base funding for the Triathlon Canada national centre for the next two years.

“We have our own place and feel like a team,” said Joanna Brown of Carp, Ont., who has relocated to Victoria to be at the national centre.

The 24-year-old became the Canadian women’s champion Sunday by winning the national title in Ottawa.

“I am committed to the next two Olympics [Tokyo 2020 and Paris or Los Angeles 2024],” she said.

She’s at the right launching pad for it.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com