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Triathlon Canada Turns 25

If we really want this sport to take off, we need to get more organized.

Act 1, Scene 1:

The beach at Mission Bay, San Diego. Wednesday, September 25, 1974. 46 athletes are dressed in swim suits, some have T-shirts on. One man stands out from the crowd.

Jack Johnstone: You guys remember the Dave Pain Birthday Biathlon. I always felt like the swim for that race, which used to be a 4.5 mile run followed by a 200 to 300 yard swim, was too short. So I had the idea of doing a run-swim biathlon that had equal emphasis on the swim and the bike. Then Don Shanahan suggested that we add a bike to it all. I wasn’t too thrilled with that idea, but he’s managed to talk me into it. So today we’re all about to embark on the first ever Mission Bay Triathlon.

As you’re all aware, we will start at the causeway to Fiesta Island at 5:45 pm. Today’s race will consist of six miles of running (the longest continuous stretch will be 2.8 miles), five miles of bicycle riding (all at once), and 500 yards of swimming (the longest continuous stretch, 250 yards). Approximately two miles of the running will be barefoot on grass and sand. Awards will be presented to the first five finishers.

Act 1, Scene 2:

A bar in Honolulu, Hawaii. 1978. A post-race get together of a group of Navy Seals and their wives.

Man 1: Of course swimmers are the fittest.

Man 2: Are you crazy? Do you have any idea what it takes to be a professional cyclist?

Man 3: You’re dreaming. Frank Shorter is the fittest man alive. He should have won a second gold medal at the Olympics in Montreal.

Commander John Collins: You want to settle this argument? Here’s how you do it. Put together the Waikiki Rough Water Swim, the Around Oahu Bike Race and the Honolulu Marathon. Whoever can do that is an Ironman. It’ll be just like the first triathlon that was held back in San Diego. My wife, Judy, did that race – she beat me by almost two minutes.

Act 1, Scene 3:

The Collins’s house. Phone rings.

Judy Collins: Hello. Pauses. Yes, hang on, I’ll get him. Hands phone to John.

John Collins: Hello. Pauses. Really? You want to do that? I was just joking.

Repeat 3 times.

John Collins: OK. You win. I’ll get it figured out. We’ll meet next Saturday at the beach. Judy says she’ll help organize everything.

Act 1, Scene 4:

A kitchen table in a middle-class home in Vancouver. 1984.

Les McDonald: Hey guys, we all know how much fun triathlon is.  I might be an Ironman world champion, but there’s so much more we can do with this sport. If we really want this sport to take off, we need to get more organized. We need to be more like skiing – we need to have a governing body that organizes races, training, coaches …


Act 2, Scene 1

A board room in Stockholm, Sweden.

Juan Antonio Samaranch: I would love to see triathlon as part of the Olympic program. For that to happen, though, you need to have more countries involved. There needs to be a world body in charge of the sport. There needs to be a world championship.

Les McDonald: We’re aware of the requirements of the IOC, Mr. Samaranch, and are working on creating just that. Next year, in Avignon, France, we will hold our first world championship event and create the International Triathlon Union. I’ve spent much of the last few years traveling around the world helping to create national triathlon organizations and their coming to both compete and meet with us in Avignon.

Act 2, Scene 2

Vancouver, B.C. 1991. A group of officials stand on the beach, preparing to start a race.

Les McDonald: It gives me great pleasure to start this, the first ever World Cup Triathlon event. Today begins the first of 11 races that will take place in eight countries around the world. Next week we’ll be in Whistler, the week after that we’ll travel to Edmonton, Alberta.

Fires a starting pistol.

Act 2, Scene 3

Deerhurst Resort Ballroom. 1992. The awards ceremony for the Triathlon World Championship.

Graham Fraser: It gives me great pleasure to present the silver medal for the elite women’s race to Joanne Ritchie. Joanne almost defended the world title that she took at the Gold Coast in Australia last year, but couldn’t quite hold off Michellie Jones in an exciting race here today.

Act 2, Scene 3

IOC Congress. Paris, France. 1994.

Juan Antonio Samaranch: It gives me great pleasure to announce that triathlon will be part of the Olympic program and awarded full-medal status for the 2000 games in Sydney, Australia.

Act 3, Scene 1

A living room in a suburban Canadian home. The family is glued to the television.

Sound from the television: Whitfield appears to be dropping back. The German, Stephan Vuckovic, looks like he’s going to take control of this race. The two are now well clear of the pack that contains the pre-race favourite Simon Lessing, who seems to have run out of gas after chasing down so many breakaways throughout this grueling race …

But, wait. Whitfield appears to be responding. With less than a kilometre to go, the Canadian is closing the gap. It’s down to five metres. Three metres. He’s even with the German. Now he’s pulling away. Simon Whitfield is flying towards the finish line.

Family stands up and cheers.

Sound from television: Simon Whitfield has taken the gold medal.

Act 3, Scene 2

Same suburban home, but the living room looks tired compared to the earlier scene. 2008. The family is once again glued to the television, but everyone is eight years older.

Sound from television – host’s voice: Whitfield appears to have lost the group. He’s now in fourth place, about 10 metres behind Bevan Docherty, Javier Gomez and Jan Frodeno.

Sound from television – Barrie Shepley’s voice: You can’t ever count Simon out, though. You know that he’s going to dig deep and do everything he can to go for that gold medal. Look, he’s just thrown off his hat and he looks like he’s going to give it one last go.

Sound from television – host’s voice: You’re right, Barrie. Look at Simon Whitfield go. There is less than 800 metres to go and he has moved right up to the rest of the men in the group. Now he’s going by them all. Simon Whitfield has taken the lead and is sprinting for the finish line. Can he do it again?

Family stands up and cheers – exactly the same way they did in the previous scene.

Sound from television – host’s voice: What an incredible race. Whitfield got edged at the line by Frodeno, but he’ll happily take home the silver here in Beijing.

Act 4, Scene 1.

Olympic Day, Lausanne, Switzerland. June 23, 2010. An outdoor ceremony with the sun shining down.

Jacques Rogge: Today, as we celebrate the 2010 Women in Sport Awards, it gives me great pleasure to present a world trophy to a man who has made a significant difference to boosting the development, participation and involvement of women and girls in sport around the world.

The Honorary President of the International Triathlon Union (ITU), has changed and driven the gender policy within his sport. In 1975, after his daughter was denied entry to a race, Leslie McDonald created a 10km race in Vancouver exclusively for women. He established the first triathlon in Canada to have equal rewards for men and women, which is a fundamental principle of the ITU today; he established a minimum of 50 per cent of women on regional and national triathlon bodies; and, as President of the ITU, he introduced the principle of 20 per cent of women on the executive board, which also has to be respected by national federations.

Act 4, Scene 2.

A banquet hall in Quebec City. Over 100 people are in the room.

Stephen Holmes: It has been an incredible ride for the sport of triathlon since the first recorded event was staged in California in 1974, which led to the formation of national federations and the International Triathlon Union in 1989. Canada has played a critical role in the international growth of our sport, and it is an absolute pleasure to bring together many of our sport’s greatest Canadian personalities – from athletes and coaches to volunteers.

When Simon Whitfield crossed the finish line in Sydney to win the first Olympic gold medal awarded in men’s triathlon, it was a day of sweet validation. Not only did a Canadian make history by winning the first event, but Les’ baby – the sport of triathlon – was on the Olympic stage following many tireless years of building and guiding its development around the world.

Canada has played a critical role in the international growth of our sport, and it is an absolute pleasure to bring together many of our sport’s greatest Canadian personalities – from athletes and coaches to volunteers.

Fade to black.