Most Canadians know Simon Whitfield as this country's greatest triathlete and the sport's first Olympic gold medal winner. Soon they may know him as a force in the world of television.
Whitfield's retirement announcement Wednesday surprised exactly nobody. At 38, he wasn't planning to head down to Rio for the 2016 games. Triathletes can continue a little longer than most Olympians, but 40 is asking a bit too much of a body.
That might explain the Tweet he sent out on Wednesday:
— simon whitfield (@simonwhitfield) October 23, 2013
What was surprising was the announcement that he was leaving competitive athletics to get into the television business. The Kingston, Ont., native will head up the Fantan Group’s sports entertainment division in Victoria and develop a TV project with Rogers Media.
"Today marks the end of my career as a professional athlete; it's been an incredible journey and an amazing chapter in my life," Whitfield said on his website. ``I grew up dreaming of representing Canada at the Olympic Games, though I never imagined I would have the honour of wearing the maple leaf four times, winning two Olympic medals, and bearing the flag.
“I grew up with triathlon. I was first introduced to the sport when competing in the Kids of Steel races organized by Joan and Rudy Hollywood in 1986. Triathlon provided wonderful memories, friendships and experiences that I will hold close forever.
``It is time to shift gears. I have spent years with athletes of all ages – sharing – motivating – challenging. As part of the Fantan team, I have the ideal partnership to put much of what I’ve learned as a competitive athlete toward design and innovation in sports entertainment.”
Both Whitfield and Rogers are keeping that sports entertainment property under wraps, but Rogers is gung-ho on the project and expects to be working with the former triathlete long into the future.
``This is certainly not the end of his great ideas," said Scott Moore, president of broadcast for Rogers, who became friends with Whitfield at the Beijing Olympics. ``I think it's one of several that will emerge over time. What makes him so valuable is that he's got what most great athletes have: a real passion for what he does. This comes out of his passion."
So what are we talking about here? Battle of the Canadian Olympic Superstars? The Real Wives of Triathlon? Urine Tests Revealed? Probably not.
``It's competitive and grassroots," Moore said, aiming not to let any cats out of any bags. ``It's something that has grown out of his experience with sports and his passion for the belief that kids need to be more active."
Whatever it is, it's at least a year away from hitting the little screen. But Moore, for one, expects it to be the start of something much bigger.
``Simon's a very bright guy," he said. ``He has a lot of great ideas. “We partnered with Simon and Fantan to develop a new sports-broadcast property because we believe that Simon has what it takes to redefine sports. He inspires everyone involved, and I’m excited that Simon has formalized his future career path."
Whitfield has been working with Fantan co-founder and CEO Tyl van Toorn to develop what they call a spectator-friendly multi-sport broadcast property.
“Simon and I have been working together to evolve some powerful concepts geared toward changing how sports are delivered across new and traditional media platforms,” said van Toorn.
Whitfield steps away from the track with a long list of achievements. In addition to being the first triathlete to win Olympic gold, he also won a silver medal in 2008 and gold at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. He also has 12 Canadian championships and 14 world cup victories.